Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Hyperdub
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
Laurel Halo, one of the more fascinating electronic music producers to emerge in the 2010s, follows two EPs for Hippos in Tanks with an album for Hyperdub. Lest there be any doubt as to whether there is a fit, the album's title is Quarantine and its first track is titled "Airsick" -- no one would be surprised if labelhead Kode9 issued productions of his own with those exact titles. This sprawling but of-a-piece release, ideal at 40 minutes in length, is significantly less beat-driven than King Felix and Hour Logic.
Review Summary: Twitch.I have had my fair share of dalliances with insomnia, and while jetlag usually instigates them, they are fueled by overwhelming restlessness. The sensation of remaining still is a profoundly uncomfortable one; there's a reason why sleep paralysis is supposed to happen while you're unconscious. And so when I first played Laurel Halo's new album while trying to fall asleep, I found myself awakening periodically to a strange prickling sensation; these were tones going straight into my body, matching up with its erratic rhythms.
Laurel Halo is a curious species of musician. Even her birth name, Ina Cube, sounds like she teleported to our world from a sci-fi classic like Neuromancer. But, unlike, say, Grimes, there's nothing outwardly futurist about Laurel Halo's physical presence—her long, maple-colored hair and unassuming beauty catch her in photographs looking more like a yellowing photo of your mom from 1976.
From the more dance-oriented pop of her Spring EP as King Felix, to the darker, dizzier Hour Logic release on Hippos In Tanks, Laurel Halo has staked her claim as one of the more intriguing figures in ambient-leaning art-pop. Alongside fellow synth-obsessives Motion Sickness of Time Travel and especially Julia Holter, Halo's part of a breed of classically trained talents taking the blurry heat-haze of Hypnagogic pop into the more elegant, ethereal domains of former stalwarts like Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson. On Quarantine, her debut LP for Steve Goodman's hardcore continuum institution, Hyperdub—one perhaps not all that surprising given some of his recent A&R work like the signing of Hype Williams' Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland—Halo's forged what is often not only her most immersive and beautiful work to date, but one that's likely to be her most divisive as well.
There has always been a seedier and malicious underbelly to the internet. All sorts of digital pestilence lurk at its depths: viruses, trojans, worms, bugs. Sadly, the virtual world is as susceptible to illness as our real selves, as vulnerable to network-wide epidemics as human populations. So it is rather appropriate that most of the names for the nasties that wreak havoc on our computers are borrowed from pathology.
When an artist "finds her voice," it's meant as a figure of speech and signifies a certain kind of greedy perspective from our end that values neat narrative arcs and easily identifiable resolutions. It's typically reserved for someone like Laurel Halo, who's darted and dashed rather than having followed a simple trajectory over the past couple of years, recording a vast and diverse amount of material under her own name and as King Felix for six record labels (and counting). Her Hyperdub debut, Quarantine, appears to acknowledge the need for something definitive, and by intricately arranging and shrewdly sequencing her C.V.
When Fact magazine recently asked Brooklyn-based Laurel Halo what her debut album was concerned with, she answered: "Contrails, trauma, volatile chemicals, viruses." Suffice to say, this ambient, cerebral record isn't exactly, "I love you" set to a 4/4 beat. Remarkably, however, it manages to sidestep pretension at almost every turn, partly due to the near-naive vocals that dominate the warm crackle and glow. On Years, the voice wobbles like a imitation of Auto-Tune, reaching for rapid changes in notes and never quite achieving mechanical perfection, which is unsettling and oddly beautiful.
“A voice means this,” writes Italo Calvino in his gorgeous and insightful short story A King Listens: “There is a living person, throat, chest, feelings, who sends into the air this voice, different from all other voices.” And this is Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar in a similar vein in A Voice and Nothing More: “The existence of a voice,” he argues, “always implies a subjectivity.” Clearly neither of them spent much time talking to Siri. Funny how we persist in drawing a line between the voice and a real flesh-and-blood human subject. In a recent interview with FACT magazine, Laurel Halo had this to say on her thought process in relation to the vocals on new record Quarantine.
Laurel HaloQuarantine[Hyperdub; 2012]By Josh Becker; May 30, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetAbstract pop seems like an oxymoron. The latter implies a basic format (like the verse-chorus-verse structure) or at least a repeated use of recognizable hooks and melodies, whereas "abstraction" typically entails either a lack of concern for structure, melody, and “catchiness” or the employment of these tropes in ways that defy clear patterns or other organizational signifiers. It's the difference between, say, Julianna Barwick's “Cloak” and Imogen Heap's “Hide and Seek.
Review Summary: Episodes of an empty apartment and absentee cliff notesThough 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.
Laurel Halo, whose real name is Ina Cube, is an Ann Arbor, Michigander who moved to Brooklyn sometime in the 2000s. She's been on the rise this year, with two records: an EP called Spring, released on new label Liberation Technologies (under her other moniker, King Felix) and Quarantine, released on Kode9's successful label Hyperdub. Quarantine's album art, a holographic print on transparent film called Harakiri Schoolgirls 2002, by the Japanese artist Makoto Aida, is shocking and violent, reminding me of the epic bloodbath at the end of Kill Bill: Volume 1, where Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) kills every single member of The Crazy 88 with a sword; arms are cut off, guts are impaled, blood spurts out of dismembered heads like water shooting out of a sprinkler.
In part, Brooklyn electronicist Laurel Halo’s first album departs from the textures of her previous EPs. ‘Quarantine’ is less concerned with the tropes of olde world dance music, more fixated on gloopy post-club ambience. It’s an even bigger curveball for Hyperdub, though, and one likely to befuddle some of their most loyal customers. The washes of synth and arsequake bass? No big deal.
Remember when the utopian images of the digital world projected by corporate interests seemed almost convincing? When swifter net access was heralded by the friendly AOL lady, whose taut frame would lead the children by the hand into the computer room, where they'd be dazzled by the delights that lay within the little white box? Where terms like 'surfing the net' and 'information superhighway' were still thrown around naively, suggesting it was perfectly plausible just to get your feet wet while glibly sliding across the surface of the data sea - without fear of getting snagged on seaweed, eviscerated by a shark or simply plunging headlong into its murky depths? Laurel Halo does. Her music to date has addressed these beautiful notions of unlimited learning, no-strings online fun and freedom of communication. But it's placed them in the context of their darker flipsides, which have become particularly apparent since the advent of social networking.
Skrillex might just be the best thing that has happened to dubstep. The co-opting of this electronic sub-genre by paint-by-numbers DJs has recently forced like-sounding artists to reinvent their style, resulting in some truly imaginative releases from underground artists. From the album art (featuring illustrations of ecstasy-engorged Japanese girls committing harakiri) to the actual material, Ann Arbor, MI native Laurel Halo combines glee and alienation on her debut full-length, Quarantine.