Laurel Halo - Dust
- Released: 23 June 2017
- Label: Hyperdub
Laurel Halo hasn’t focused on vocals since 2012’s breakthrough Quarantine – the intervening releases have concentrated on a more techno-orientated, though not always dance music, approach. Since then her singles, EPs and the full-length Chance of Rain have drilled down deep into the rhythmical chemistry of her music, with only a few snatched samples of singers here and there. It’s almost as if she has been holding back until she found exactly the formulas with which to meld her inventive and mesmerising voices.
Halo’s use of vocals is quite a lot different when comparing the two more voice-based albums however, with Quarantine using her own untreated voice to great effect, keeping in the occasionally slightly wonky tuning giving the synthetically constructed songs an intimate character, whereas Dust has guest vocalists and a wide range of effects and manipulations of voice.
On Dust, Halo has achieved a similarly light-speed leap forward to Quarantine and the two records sound brilliant paired together. The songs are so densely packed they feel like nine or ten in one and, like the 2012 record, the whole album will no doubt take months and months to fully unravel and appreciate.
The opening track Sun to Solar is difficult to get a handle on such is the continual mutation of the sounds and the unintelligibility of the voices. Jelly follows this up with a somewhat more conventional outing – it is the first single – with a more gradual build than the perplexing opener. It soon becomes just as much of a head-spinner as two, possibly three, effect-laded voices clash and undercut each other with lines like ‘you are hypocrite and you drink too much’, and ‘you can’t do this, and I can’t do this’. It could be a depiction of an argument, or a kind of exploration of the instability of identity, the yous and Is seem too fragmented to connect into a coherent interaction. It finishes and you realise it’s only the end of the second track. Laurel herself has said, “It’s about saying “fuck you” to a bully...It’s like, I’m going to rise above, and I’m going to shut your noise out, because I don’t need to listen to it. I want to leave it purposely vague, as to whether it has to do with an external bully or an internal bully. It’s just the process of dismantling and defusing negative voices, and turning them into something positive. But in this demented way.”
A Michigan native who’s passed through Detroit and New York on her way to her current destination in Berlin, the classically-trained Halo’s music has absorbed something of each environment. Dust is her first full-length album since moving to Germany and has been described as “spooky Berlin music” by composer Max Richter, who featured Halo on recent compilation joining the dots between modern classical and experimental electronic music. The track he selected, ‘Koinos’ from Dust, is one of the most perplexing – heavily treated multitracked voices flip all around the sonic field intoning what sounds like ‘just another lie’ and ‘looking out the window’ as glassy sounds ping against each other and percussion tumbles down in every direction at once. In a vast understatement, a festival programmer has described Halo’s music as ‘off-kilter’.
Dust will no doubt haunt the more electronic/experimental leaning lists at the end of the year. And it may take that long at least to defragment this brilliant album.