With a title expressing a sentiment that is much needed in these trying times, Fergal Lawler’s debut album lacks resemblance to his work with Irish pop /rock group The Cranberries. Instead, Lawler takes an introspective approach across eight deliberately-paced instrumental tracks.
Inspired by soundtracks and ambient music, All Hope Is Never Lost features Lawler on all instruments, those being at least guitar, various keyboards, sparse percussion, and effects. To that point, Shaking Hands With Death kicks off the album with a juxtaposition of soft drones and jagged eclectic guitar occasionally combined with acoustic. The mood evokes the duality of wide-open spaces and barren landscapes – their emptiness is both majestic and melancholy. The track grows more abstract as it continues with the instruments processed into a soundscape.
This penchant for electronic experimentation continues throughout, even as more instruments are brought in and out of the mix. Waves of distortion might accompany short rhythmic passages driven by cymbals, or guitar chords are held until they mix into underlying drones. This is accomplished almost entirely without a beat or any clearly-defined repetitive structures. The tracks come across as largely improvised, but perhaps in accordance with a pre-contemplated framework.
The yin / yang of Lawler’s approach is represented by Speaking Very Softly Now, which features an almost-catchy piano melody sharing the foreground with rough guitar drones. Ultimately, the drones evolve to take on a brooding tone that captures the earlier roles of both instruments. More desolate than dark, the track plays with the listener’s moods, inviting tranquility but exhibiting too much tension to accomplish that state.
Comparisons? Perhaps the desert ambient of early Steve Roach or the more modern Americana of SUSS. But Lawler’s approach is grittier and more cinematic. Regardless, this is a true gem of a release and an exercise in the unexpected.