Thursday, 12 July 2012

Laurel Halo - Quarantine

The world of ambient and electronic music has surely become foreign to the Daft Punk loving generation of XBOX players. They may think Hyperdub is some sort of fast paced dubstep, but in reality with the real deal electro heads, Hyperdub rings bells and captures emotions. Without talking in depth about the monstorous Burial, Hyperdub have had a string of successful artists including The Bug, Zomby and the aforementioned 2-step garage superstar, Burial. Laurel Halo fits nicely between some of these artists, but is this really the right place for her? I'm not sure. Hyperdub or no Hyperdub, this album was always going to surface one way or another, and Hyperdub is just an export to some, but a community to others. An elitist group of individuals who can call themselves Hyperdub artists. That's what separates Laurel Halo from the rest of the world.

Before mentioning some of these one worded track names, I must warn the listener that they're in for a genuine surprise. Laurel Halo incorporates the soundscapes and atmospheres that made Hyperdub what it is. 'Airsick'  begins with a Time Splitters 2-esque bass pattern. The wavy atmosphere and light synthesizers fade in without notice. Imagine a car driving fast through a tunnel, within the mountains. Every so often, the car goes out into the open and the dark, gloomy skyline appears. This is what Laurel Halo's music sounds like. Structure is just a made up word when it comes to Laurel Halo. Samples enter left right and centre, fading and returning light flashes of lightning. her vocal stands out as a stretched, multi-layered and heavily effected robotic sound. 

'Years' has an estranged vocal and a very deep bass. The harmonies are straight up scary, thank god for the light synthesizer arpeggio, otherwise I'd be knee deep in my own shit. Yes, it's that disturbing. The lyrics sound psychopathic, with Halo singing, "I will never see you again" / "You're mad because I will not leave you alone." If she sounds like this, then I'd be mad too, just saying. Her voice changes in depth as the track progresses, with the vocal becoming more clear and less confusing towards the final seconds of bass. 'Thaw' has a slightly higher bass note at it's source. The track turns disturbing as screeches, and what sounds like children screaming, or car's breaking. Bells are ringing and swooshing all over the place, like time has slowed down... This should just be a Dr. Who episode. The synthesizer sounds drastically like The Knife, but I'll let her off with this because her withdrawn vocal sweeps me out of the tardis and into a land of synth hooks. The fast paced drum patterns  are hiding behind a wall, waiting to bust out. Everything can be made into a music video, easily. I'm imagining a mix between A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Laurel Halo draws inspiration from a number of sources. She lists Autechre, Cocteau Twins and Pink Floyd as influences, all of which I can hear whilst listening to this album. 'Joy' has an energetic stark electronic beat with plenty of delay. The keyboards are put to good use with some heavy instrumentation. Her harmonic vocals sit nicely on this track as the white noise synths rotate around in a circular motion. 'MK Ultra' follows in the same pattern. Her voice sounds like a fresh and less talented, orientated Bjork. With bits of Kate Bush attached somewhere deep inside the layered vocals. I suppose we should talk about the authenticity of this album, and how it fares when compared to other electronic albums. My answer being, it doesn't. What we have is an album of soundscapes and studio trickery which manipulates Laurel's vocals in a way which sounds interesting, but god damn it's repetitive, such as 'waw'. And that's ultimately this albums downfall.

If you're familiar with Laurel Halo, you might have heard her spiralling 2010 single 'Embassy'. Things are slightly different now, for instance 'Carcass'. We have a dash of reverb and an array of synth lines. It's something The Knife did for years, they were just lacking the key ingredient, the ingredient that makes Laurel Halo, Laurel Halo instead of Ina Cube. Ambient textures and layered synthesizers. Dating Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) may have added to her new found sound, but it doesn't explain the free form structure which she boldly takes on. 'Holoday' is yet another ambient monster. The trickling white noise sounds like rain drops. It has faint 'choir' like vocals with a dance vocal sample and another vocal which sounds like a phone recording. The variations are clearly what keeps things interesting here. 

The final four tracks feature more beats, less ambiance and further vocal layers. Quarantine is an album that I can see growing on people, however the majority of people won't find enjoyment if repetition isn't your thing. The beats, bass and sounds mount up, and become nothing but dull instrumentation. The final moments are beautiful, with 'Light + Space' picking up the excitement after the previous few tracks of monotonous ambient music. The vocal is light, with a stand out melody and refrain, "words are just words that you soon forget." Laurel Halo has succeeded in making a half-original album of joyous ambient instrumentals and layered, aesthetic vocals, but at what cost. The comparisons to The Knife are evident, it;s just left up to the listener to decide whether or not they will return to this album, or shelve it. Ambient music faces a harsh reality. Many musicians in the genre release under a pseudonym, Laurel Halo is no different. With the backing of Hyperdub, and her striking vocals, I'm sure she can produce something spectacular in the near future. Quarantine just doesn't have enough packed inside of it. On the surface it sounds tricky and glitchy, with samples galore and avant-garde like structures. It's the inner beauty of this album that spills quality. Some tracks do sound empty, with very little but a synth line and a stressed vocal. Its tracks like 'Airsick', Thaw' and 'Light + Space' that capture the listener with exciting beats, technical structures and instrumentation that exceeds the basics.


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