Since it has been over a year since I last shared my admiration for the multi-faceted, deeply thematic works of ambient music maestro Scott Lawlor, a brief recap is in order before I tackle his expansion from personal emotional therapeutic expressions to the deep social consciousness he showcases on Bad Seed, a searing, soul-shaking seven track meditation on one child’s journey through the traumatic memories of earlier abuse.
One earlier quote still sums it up for me: “If you are into soulful, thought provoking and consciousness expanding ambient music, Scott is a composer and artist that needs to be on your musical radar.” Among literally hundreds of full length albums in the largest bandcamp catalog (and growing Spotify list) you’re likely to see, I previously reviewed his 2018 works “Transition” and “In a Dark Room,” which he created as he processed the loss of his beloved brother to cancer.
Hardly afraid to tackle challenging emotions and topics, he looks outside of his own life experiences to create the extraordinary but often painful to absorb new collection. In the works for nearly a year and a half – even as he was creating those previous recordings – Bad Seed was inspired by a plethora of online stories of severe child abuse he found himself immersed in.
As you enter into this amazing, often hauntingly melodic but frequently disturbing sonic “rabbit hole,” you shouldn’t simply listen for your own edification and opening to dark social realities via one child’s horrific journey. Realize that above all else, Scott’s heart is in the right place as he uses his rich sonic palette (full of equal parts charming childlike whimsy, ticking clocks and chimes and intense and ominous “white noise” washes) to give voice to the often-voiceless young victims. If he can use this challenging recording to make even one more person, and especially one more parent aware, it will have been worth the intense effort it took to create such an extraordinary work.
Scott’s mission is to take the listener into the mind of a teen who remains haunted by the memories of a horrible night when he was severely disfigured after being thrown into a bathtub of scalding water as the result of the unimaginable rage of his father who was subsequently imprisoned for his actions. Where most of us would feel compassion for a moment after reading of such a case and move on to the next news item, Scott boldly chooses to enter the story from different angles at various times to create a compelling aural narrative.
Each composition is a sonic snapshot of a moment past or present as the teen learns to cope with the lifelong scars (physical and emotional) and haunting memories of the horrific, lifechanging events he endured. In some ways, Scott creates the perfect soundtrack to a difficult to watch film about this painful reality – but by creating the music without specific images, he gives us the latitude to imagine just what the character looks like and feels at any given moment.
So as not to give away the full emotional impact of the seven elements of this overwhelming narrative, it’s best to offer general impressions. Although the opening track is titled “The Pain of Memory,” it has a sweetly hypnotic melodic riff, enhanced by echoing voices of innocent children for most of its run time. While haunting in the larger context of what is to come, it reflects memories of a more idyllic time – until suddenly it gives way to a soulless void with a few minutes to go.
By design, though it starts with mystical childlike chimes, “The Regression Room” is by design creepy, intended by Scott to symbolize a clinical setting of detached therapists attempting to cure our protagonist by hypnotizing him and easing him back to an earlier time so that he can deal more directly with the abuse. Its “chiminess” quickly gives way to the kind of echo filled ambiences we might associate with a house of horrors. The journey to healing has to start with facing the pain, which the artist illuminates head on with seven minutes of pure white noise, modulated to translate to a lack of emotion and then just as quickly to the rage of the attacking father. For authenticity’s sake, Scott took a field recording of his daughter playing and laughing in the bath tub and transformed it into the menacing shrieks heard throughout the piece. Tough stuff indeed – but you have to go through the pain to get past it.
Decidedly cacophonous and unmelodic, the nearly 10 minutes of pure and at times, intensely noisy ambience of the title track “Bad Seed” is designed to reflect the intense journey our teen goes on in his mind as he processes the conflicting emotions of guilt, what if’s, the loss of innocence, continuous self-persecution and the ironic sense that if he had only behaved better, the attack would never have happened. It’s an endless fascinating loop of self-doubt and self-loathing that is a seriously ambitious attempt to translate a conflicting mental state into some kind of musical form.
These harsher pieces lead to the slightly easier to digest final three tracks: “Bleeding Soul” – which, again enhanced with Scott’s daughter Leah’s haunting vocalizations, ruminates through mournful regret and abandonment and the reality that the child can no longer trust the abusive criminal father; “Haunted Memories,” which reintroduces slight melodic impulses into the chaotic white noise as the protagonist moves through the painstaking process of healing; and finally, blissfully, even more melodic, multi-instrumental flow on “Healing Scars,” a dramatic ten minute “scene” where the past is left behind and the teen bonds with a fellow victim, able to share their past pain so that they may, together, move past it and into their new, hopefully brighter, reality.
Listen to Scott Lawlor's Bad Seed here: https://scottlawlor.bandcamp.com/album/badseed