Monday, May 28, 2012

Laurel Halo - Quarantine (Hyperdub, 2012)

Very few electronic composers and producers make records as yearning or as natural as Laurel Halo does. Her harmonies quivered lovingly underneath hard-edged grooves on her 2010 EP King Felix. Last year's Hour Logic EP wasn't an atypical affair, but the melancholic chords and occasional vocal flecks coated her cyclical dance loops in an air of drama. Halo's first official full-length, Quarantine, is the apex of her work's corporeal features, carrying her voice beyond the assorted synth textures that grounded her early material.

The percussion thaws into sharp edits, and the keys seep from every fissure, releasing the sonorous heartache once encased in rigid tempo. Quarantine's dysphoria channels that which is stirred by one of Halo's peers and collaborators, Daniel Lopatin, whose Oneohtrix Point Never output overlooks skyscraper-height drones and phonic transmissions from video-encoded billboards with a grave expression. "Caught behind a wall of tears / distorted liquid image of you," she solemnly calls during "Tumor" as unfeigned harmonies emerge from repetition. Halo's inflection embraces the fluttering allure of Elizabeth Fraser and dulcet angularity of Björk-- a voice that pines for humanity within lifeless surroundings.

Cold programming envelops the sequences that permeate "Airsick", however a brief, phonographic piano phrase and Halo's otherworldly aria transpose their mechanical bearing. Throughout Quarantine, Halo either applies a humanistic touch to the futuristic metropolis she inhabits, or her voice takes shape of the computerized milieu. The latter occurs within the album's mid-section: "MK Ultra" feels entirely synthetic, as if the wavering key of its chorus was affected by digital weathering. Just over a minute, "Wow" is one of Halo's most immersing exploits: clarion flourishes of machinated ah's undulate over an otherwise bare canvas.

Quarantine is such a haunting listen because its elements are constantly at odds with one another. Laurel Halo's moving intonations resist the voltaic instrumentals, but their product isn't contradictory. Her ability to thwart listeners is untrodden and it's bound to polarize even onlookers who once gravitated toward her EPs. As Halo has drifted out of her initial orbit, she's happened upon a sphere that's sublimely stomach-turning, like the momentarily blissful nausea that courses through your stomach after spinning in circles.

[Laurel Halo Website]
[Buy Quarantine from Hyperdub]

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