Laurel Halo: In Situ
Honest Jon’s Records (2015)
Remember back when Laurel Halo blew my mind with Quarantine after having my wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic? That record was so dreamy and weird, I was totally obsessed with it for a while. But her jazzed-out dance friendly follow up Chance of Rain didn’t excite me quite as much, so I approached In Situ with trepidation.
What a pleasant surprise to find Laurel reinvestigating the gloopy structures she’s so good at moulding. In Situ is another instrumental endeavour, and while its Nike Airmax are planted in the world of dance, its palette is built from the outer fringes of electronica and experimental music.
In Situ is stripped of all clutter, gone are the analogue samples, and despite being sparse its environment glows warm. The bulging bass line and anxious high hats on Situation scream Drum n’ Bass and Grime, but the track is pretty much un-danceable. Nebenkirkungen enters the fray on little more than a low-end throb and miscellaneous ambience before blossoming into a complex array of percussive ticks and damaged chimes that’s claustrophobic more than euphoric.
Readers may have read about the ‘altercation’ between Steve Albini and Powell this week, with the grumpy old master of guitar abrasion and offensiveness essentially calling dance and electronic music over-manufactured and inconsequential. I understood what Albini was getting at, but I also think the guy was showing his age a bit. Electronica, and even dance music has evolved so far beyond its original incarnation. Artists like Laurel Halo have a knack for making electronica that ‘feels’ while pushing way beyond the genre’s tropes.
In reality artists like Powell, Russell Haswell and Pete Swanson along with Halo (to name a few) are making music that’s way more experimental and in your face than most dudes with a guitar these days (ahem, Albini). Check out In Situ for a glimpse of what I mean.
Laurel Halo: Quarantine
Exploring the world of noise the way I have in the past four years or so, you start to forget that your definition of ‘noise’ is probably quite different to that of people who might not listen to music with an experimental edge. My partner heard me listening to Laurel Halo’s gorgeous Quarantine recently and he was confused. “It’s just noise with a girl singing over the top.” I guess on some level he’s right, but for a moment I was shocked at his reaction because I actually think this record is quite beautiful and mesmerising, and while it might have ‘arty’ overtones I’ve never thought of Quarantine as noisy.
But then, I’ve survived (and enjoyed) Merzbow’s Pulse Demon, and records by the likes of Cherry Point and Lasse Marhaug. In comparison Laurel Halo sounds like fucking Bambi trotting through a forest filled with butterflies and daffodils.
When I first started seeing Laurel Halo’s name I was hesitant to take on someone who on the surface might be seen as playing with a craze that’s getting a bit stale. It seems Oneohtrix Point Never is the new black, if you know what I mean. Until the day I happened to see Quarantine reviewed on yet another blog/music site and noticed that the record cover, which I thought depicted some cute, hyper-coloured cartoon rip-off was actually a group of school girls committing Hare Kari with Samurai swords. Blood and rainbows spraying everywhere.
I realised there was something more going on here.
Quarantine is a gelatinous creature. Each time you manage to grab hold of it, the music oozes through your fingers and forms a new pool of pink and purple goo. With the synth as her base instrument Halo builds soft clouds of drone and rhythmic melody heightened occasionally by her slightly out-of-tune and somewhat monotonous voice. The songs are shapeless for the most part, and although motifs and lyrical lines reoccur within each track there’s few identifiable verses and choruses. Often, tracks end abruptly or segue into a hazy mist before simply fading away.
Wow sounds like her voice has been sampled, pitch shifted and bent into a creepy avant choir. Carcass rides a throbbing bass surrounded by watery keys and strange alien computer rings with Halo occasionally interjecting something about a carcass in a non-human, squeaky voice. After four minutes thirty three seconds the tune simply stops. Earlier on, Thaw kicks off with an atonal hum as some sort of field recording bubbles to the surface and gives way to a pretty, triadic tune while Halo asks whether it’s raining and warns you not to get addicted to anything.
Laurel Halo makes curious music, it’s warm and fuzzy but weird. She’s being lumped in with the hypnagogic pop and synthesiser detritus gang, but Halo is definitely doing something all her own. I had three wisdom teeth removed a few weeks ago and Quarantine was my saviour. I didn’t need pain killers to float away in a haze.