Luke Lalonde places himself at the centre of climate chaos — as both participant and protester.
As polarizing as the climate crisis is, it has spurned many to action and activism. Whether it’s by raising awareness and holding policymakers accountable through protests and rallies or encouraging everyday consumers to make informed decisions about buying sustainable, carbon-neutral products, we all have a stake in staving off the devastating effects humanity has on our environment.
For some, like Born Ruffians’ Luke Lalonde, activism is borne out of creativity and free expression. On his second solo album, The Perpetual Optimist, Lalonde lets his anxieties about the climate crisis manifest lyrically and his hopefulness pour through the predominantly joyful, jangly instrumentation. “Giving the stink eye to every car that goes by” on opener “Waiting for the Light to Change,” Lalonde not only points the finger at natural-resource burning commuters but also at himself, the “singer stuck on stage with a spotlight pointed at his sunken face” who has a platform and an audience but finds that the “words just won’t come out”. He sets this bleakness against a rollicking Dylan-esque riff that’s as far removed from Born Ruffians’ mid-aughts indie-rock roots as possible, simultaneously setting the tone for the album and defying audience expectations.
Over nine songs and two instrumental interstitials, Lalonde creates an intensely personal narrative about his relationship to the world. But instead of casting himself as an omniscient narrator of global destruction and chaos, he places himself at the centre of it — both a participant and protester. On “Any Day Now” he vows to “be all the things that [he’s] not” and “fix the things that [he] broke” while openly acknowledging the day he’s going to get around to doing all this hasn’t come yet. As the album nears its close, the titular optimist in Lalonde appears to be anything but: on “La Terre Vivra” he all but gives up on humanity (“le monde se termine/la terre vivra/ouille!”) and relents to our mortality on “Two Minutes to Midnight” with an all-caps shout (“ONE DAY YOU’RE GONN’ DIE /’CAUSE YOU JUST DO/AS FOR ME, MYSELF & I/WE’RE GONNA DO IT TOO!”).
But far be it from an artist like Lalonde to leave listeners on a bum note. “Winners & Losers” is a soulful Cohen-esque lament that’s as beautiful as it is poignant. The Perpetual Optimist may highlight more problems than solutions, but to Lalonde’s credit, he’s just pointing out the obvious: every win humanity earns in its battle to reverse climate change is never going to counteract all the losses already accumulated. In the end, the conclusion is obvious: The Perpetual Optimist isn’t Lalonde or even a human being at all. It’s Planet Earth itself. This celestial rock we populate is floating in space and biding its time as we eliminate our very existence. While we humans accept our powerlessness to stop the inevitable, what ends up being our loss is the planet’s biggest win: a chance to reset all the damage once all the people are gone and start over again.