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Album Review

by Laurel Halo

Hyperdub Records

Review Date
14th June 2012
Reviewed by
Martyn Pepperell

Quarantine is the debut album from New York by way of Michigan electronic composer and singer Laurel Halo. Her first release on Hyperdub Records, Quarantine sees Halo expanding on her diversely built up soundworld, as constructed over the course of her respective 2010 and 2011 EPs King Felix and Hour Logic (both released via Hippos In Tanks). Trading in a psychedelic, environmental take on techno and pop music, the songs on Quarantine in general, work in a stargazed singer-synthwriter configuration, locally comparable to a high detailed cyborg dystopia version of Glass Vaults, with increased degrees of sonic friction.

Environmental as opposed to ambient, the twelve ornately detailed compositions on Quarantine, are constructed around drum programming and synth patterns which explicitly suggest movement and travel. Rendering the concept of journey through bubbling digital tones that suggest the flow of water through a river of toxic sludge, sweeping pads and tones which imply expansive empty (perhaps abandoned) spaces, and twitching blips with a shooting star redolent quality, Halo proceeds to roughly rub these inhuman, yet oddly naturalistic sound configurations against her own relatively unprocessed singing voice. Not a traditionally good singer per say, Halo's performances succeed though flawed humanity, creating a perfect counterpoint or as a Japanese anime fan would put it "ghost in the shell" to the cold futurist tendencies explored in her digital orchestration.

The aforementioned phrase "roughly rub" is key here, as across the course of Quarantine’s running time, what could initially appear to be a sleek, chrome plated elevator pride of perfectly placed atmosphere, slowly reveals more and more of a tortured internal state. Within the lyrical quotient of Halo's work, this dark, twisted side becomes more apparent with each repeat listen, crystallising in lines such as "You'll make love to cold bodies" (on 'MK Ultra'). Along the same train of thought, on numbers such as 'Holoday', a vocal snippet ("Just want to be with you") is juxtaposed with rough, fuzzy textures which suggest anything but romantic coupling. Fed into song titles like 'Carcass' and 'Tumor' and the excellent Makoto Aida helmed cover artwork (which on closer inspection reveals manga style Japanese schoolgirls disembowelling themselves), with repeated listening, the violence, trauma and obsession imbedded in Quarantine become increasingly apparent; and inversely - increasingly cathartic.

In this era, there are a lot of musicians currently active who would like to believe they are fashioning work with a slow smouldering depth, a sort of sonic weight which will truly reward the listener who listens the most; and the closest. In reality, especially within the shifting landscape of sounds and genres Halo intersects, music this loaded, and this ready to be unpacked and understood through an increasingly intense series of chambers of understanding is tellingly rare. Sadly, given the constant stream of information out there, and the general disposable attitude associated with hyperlinked electronic music, it's hard to say how many will really make a true pilgrimage to the centre of Quarantine. I've been there, you should venture forth as well.


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