Luke Lalonde: The Perpetual Optimist
Luke Lalonde touted his second solo LP as a meditation on our slow-building apocalypse. Leave it to the Born Ruffians frontman, one of indierock’s most charismatic songwriters, to subvert expectations. Even when the lyrics get grim—as they often do, dwelling on mortality and the devastation of climate change— The Perpetual Optimist is never less than joyful. But it’s tempting to brush off the album as a throwaway lark: Its lo-fi, low-stakes tunes lack the studio dazzle and full-band synergy that define the Ruffians at their ruff-iest. Rockabilly-tinted opener “Waiting for the Light to Change” kicks off with a creaky acoustic strum and descending vocal bark that sounds like an iPhone bootleg of a four-track demo. You wait for the fake-out production trick, for the song to bloom. It never arrives. But once you accept The Perpetual Optimist for its fidelity, the songs come easily: The philosophical folk of “[Not My] Spiritual Guide!” unfurls like a vintage Simon & Garfunkel duet, the singer harmonizing with himself as he questions the existence of God and shouts out Mister Rogers (“What do you do with the mad you feel?”); “Dusty Lime” sounds like a ’60s protest folk tune, full of vivid imagery (“Had the look of a book at the library that’s been checked out one too many times”) and the jarring falsetto leaps of a classic country singer. “You are the perpetual optimist,” Lalonde sings on the record. “Get no reward if you take no risk.” It’s a perfect summary: Upbeat despite itself, the sonic gamble pays off handsomely.