Review : Laurel Halo - Quarantine
SputnikmusicThough not a piece commissioned exclusively for Laurel Halo’s full-length debut, it’s easy to draw parallels between Quarantine and Tokyo artist Makoto Aida’s Harakiri Schoolgirls. That it should serve as the artwork for Laurel’s first release on Kode9’s Hyperdub label is of little surprise: both art and music deal in similar ideas - something that should be seen as sickly sweet is instead presented as a gruesome spectacle. As an argument for the loss of innocence, Halo (real name Ina Cube) cultivates a similar disembodied premise, one that works through the idea of multiple identities and pseudonyms into a ghastly spectre of unfiltered raw emotion. That her bedrock should settle on the familiar is of no surprise (synth pop and rhythmic ambience are both principal factors here), it’s how Halo treats her sound that makes her simultaneously alluring yet frighteningly harrowing to absorb.
Interestingly, it’s the after effects of her music that resonate the most; while an indifferent and puzzling listen, Quarantine is a surprisingly easy pill to swallow. Those who bought in to James Blake’s open declarations of empathy and regret should have no trouble saddling a similar weight here. Both artists also approach their cause in a similar fashion: while Halo has never shied away from adopting her own musings into the puzzle, Quarantine freely employs its artist’s voice as its greatest weapon. Tracks are built on little more than a scratchy soot-laden synth arrangement and her own unpolished dialect. Bereft of layering and processing her words (when clearly discernible) take on an authoritative and powerful quality, they ache and crack under their own forcefulness.
What occasionally holds the album back, yet does nothing to offshoot the emotional core of Quarantine, is that many of the tracks here are intentionally disjointed, fragments of the idiosyncratic spirit that’s pioneered them. Much of the material here begins fully-formed, as if we’ve somehow overlooked their introduction and build and arrived instead only at some pivotal moment of their structure. Every frozen melody and monolithic rumble feels so laden down with not just detail but spiritual weight that Quarantine plays out like a journal – peppered with floating notes and snippets of self-worth rather than a clear narrative structure. Which ultimately gives the album its brazenly hypnotic allure, how it not so much avoids structure but instead takes the concept purely on its own terms. That the album’s proclivity to rattle rather than charm should feel so immense, be it through its illuminating yet jagged shards of humanity or through its crackling wall of sound delivery, it’s still based on an almost playful and youthful exuberance....full text
IcratesThe signing of Brooklyn artist Laurel Halo to Hyperdub marks a significant shift in the London label’s recent offerings. Her debut LP Quarantine is a notable move away from the more familiar bass music featured on the label exemplified by Burial, King Midas Sound and label head Kode9 himself.
Indeed, Quarantine is a progression of Halo’s two previously released EPs, King Felix and Hour Logic and continues a boldly developed Spaghetti Junction of sound and style. A cacophony of slow building soundscapes incorporating ambient electronic and sub-bass influences coupled with the spontaneous fluidity of acid jazz and waves of synth, static, blips and creeps. The unique sounding results, as on opener “Airsick,” make for an endearing if tense listen; the synthesis of samples and styles, while certainly disorientating, highlights a rich agenda and attention to detail.
With a variety of styles seeping through with each listen one can begin to hear glimpses of Hyperdub connections with occasional flutterings of dub and even techno and electronica. Yet her music is also deeply cautious in revealing these sounds, often building towards terrifying crescendos, as on “MK Ultra” with its ominous chant of “hurricane’s always coming.”
This is perhaps the most perceptible aspect of Quarantine. Halo’s use of disjointed and dramatic vocals – detached from the complex arrangements they’re supposed to accompany – are engaging yet at the same time alienating. Harking to a Bjork-like style, or even Kate Bush, her fluctuating vocals can be both calming as on the charmingly titled “Tumor” or grossly brutal, such as the bizarre variety of screeching vocals on the dub-infused “Carcass.” At times, the ambience of the record is reminiscent of Blade Runner, the listener becoming Rick Deckard, storming through a dystopian LA in 2019. While a positive thing, there’s a sense that ultimately tracks such as “Morcom” cement an overwrought sounding record, full of unpredictability and a menacing apprehension....full text
JunodownloadYou can’t deny that Hyperdub is moving away from its original mooring to another place within electronic music. Purists will bemoan it, critics will pontificate upon it, and loyalists will champion it. Whatever the case, the label now stands as a reflection of Kode9’s broad tapestry of musical vision, and that’s presently a sound that reaches from DVA’s technicolour bump of Pretty Ugly to the recent Hype Williams-but-not offering from Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland. Now we have something equally adventurous (both in art and Kode’s A&Ring) from Laurel Halo.
Two years ago very few people would have been familiar with the work of Halo (real name Ina Cube), as she crept out on a split release for Rvng Intl. and put out the King Felix EP. To move so quickly and with such little output to a high-profile LP release is no mean feat, but there’s an undeniable sparkle in her music that allures the listener with ease and grace. What sets Quarantine apart from the music Halo has made so far is that her voice takes something of a central role in most of the tracks. Her croons have been heard bubbling in the mix of older ouput, heavily treated and processed to meet with her textural compositions, but here they ring through stark and pure. Beyond layers of harmonising accompaniment, it’s rare to hear any kind of effect on her arrestingly naïve delivery, and it makes the music all the more powerful.
“Thaw” represents a key distillation of the methods and intentions that have seemingly gone into the album. It comes to life on a bed of tones left over from the previous track, and even when there’s little more than a plaintive synth riff at work there already exists a polite cacophony of unidentifiable low end rumble and texture. There’s a definite wall-of-sound approach to Halo’s production, and so even a song as pastoral as “Thaw” acquires a monolithic quality, making an epic out of seemingly humble means. Above all this mellifluous sound is Halo’s voice; confident yet also ever so slightly cracking around the edges. In a recent interview she claimed that turning away from effecting her vocals gave a human edge to the music, and it’s true. In some ways the woozy production shares a spirit with the likes of Hype Williams and Maria Minerva, but the purity of her singing instantly bores its way into your heart in a way those other artists never quite manage to.
There’s plenty of detail to be gleaned from the myriad layers of sound Halo employs, but the real magic of this album is in the way every track interweaves until you can’t be sure where one ended and another begins. It’s an intentional move which lends itself to the sun-bleached ambience and youthful exuberance of the music, as if soundtracking Super 8-shot memories of childhood summers. Just listen to the opening chords of “Morcom” if you need further proof of what the hell I’m on about....full text
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