Thursday, 7 November 2013

Review: Laurel Halo

Laurel Halo Chance of Rain (Hyperdub, 2013)

Ina Cube has followed an interesting musical trajectory under her Laurel Halo moniker. The sound of Laurel Halo is in constant flux, be it the ethereal, warped pop of the King Felix EP, the dislocated dance music of Hour Logic or the queasy ambiance of last year's Quarantine. A few months ago, her Behind the Green Door EP was released, which proved to be a meticulously crafted not-quite-house excursion which defied any suitable listening experiences; it wasn't repetitive enough for a gym playlist, nor was it quite as involving or forward-thinking as any previous releases.

In a way, defying convention is what the ever-evolving Laurel Halo project is all about. The aforementioned Quarantine was possibly the single most divisive release of 2012, and this divisiveness lay in Halo's controversial decision to leave her vocals untreated and at the forefront of the album's sound. The rift between the record's admirers and doubters was obvious, ranging from its rather conspicuous position atop The Wire magazine's end-of-year chart to angry commenters spewing bile over it (as one RateYourMusic reviewer eloquently puts it, "This is just fucking awful"). Chance of Rain sees Halo drop the vocals, or at least removes them from the forefront, and while it certainly won't prove to be as controversial as its predecessor, it's no less challenging for it. In fact, it's a markedly singular release in a year already filled to bursting point with alternative experiences.

On Chance of Rain, Halo is continuing to explore the dislocated techno/house of her Behind the Green Door EP. While the EP was steeped in the rigidity of said genres, this record is a far more contemplative and flexible record which manages to upend the archetypal techno sound. Opening track "Dr Echt", which takes its name from the Dutch word for a river ford, clears space with 80s jazz-esque electric piano keys, before "Oneiroi" fills the void with pulsating, subtly shifting synths and frenetic drum patterns. Throughout the album, displaced melodies are introduced and deftly worked into the record's framework; the title track features a particularly elegant piano arrangement, which completely alters the track's dynamic.

Ultimately, Chance of Rain is another exemplary entry into the canon of one of electronic music's finest current artists. Despite doffing its cap to the genres and movements that influence it, Chance of Rain never fully embraces them. Instead, it creates its own headspace, an airy dreamscape infiltrated by off-kilter techno beats and fragmented micro-repetitions of sound. Many, myself included, were initially disappointed that Halo's vocals wouldn't be resurfacing this time around, but the beauty and grace of this instrumental suite can make a case for itself.

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