Confession time. Unlike many (most?), I failed to grasp the appeal of Laurel Halo’s highly-acclaimed Quarantine album last year. Which is not to say I disliked it, per se, it just left me nonplussed, which was all the more frustrating because I’d loved her earlier Hour Logic EP. I could definitely see the talent involved in Quarantine, but it just didn’t touch me the way it did others, which may be my own fault. Who knows?
All I can say with any certainty is that, with Chance of Rain, I am well and truly back in love with the music of Laurel Halo. Hell, I am dim enough that, if I didn’t “get” one of her works, it probably means I am lacking some neurological function that she and others happen to possess. If Chance of Rain confirms anything, it’s that Laurel Halo is almost certainly a step ahead of me, and always has been, which makes approaching her music that much more enriching.
I feel like an illiterate who’s just had Shakespeare explained to him (and no, I don’t always “get” The Bard, either): I’m aware I’m the stupid one, but still not sure why, although I’m happy to revel in my ignorance.
Chance of Rain casts me back to a gig Halo performed last year in London’s trendy Shoreditch. Inside a tiny room packed to the rafters, and bolstered by a righteous sound system, she had already cast Quarantine’s half-songs to the back of her mind, instead delivering a pulsating, angular set of jerky post-techno. It’s this live presence that she encapsulates on her latest album. Tracks such as “Oneiroi”, “Serendip” and “Ainnome” are sharp, edgy and driven by a singular approach to rhythm that takes electronic conventions and tips them sideways. Beats are shortened until they become staccato hiccups or gently lingered upon in a trance-like haze. Unlike a lot of modern electronica that takes its cues from dubstep’s bass revival, Halo’s tracks are spindly. They’re dominated less by dropped bass lines than by the omnipresence of body-shifting rhythmic pulsations and crystalline synth patterns.
As in Quarantine, these tracks seem to constantly shift out of focus. They’re not quite pop, but neither are they perfectly tailored for the dance floor. Of course, they’ll make you shift your ass in a semblance of dance, but there remains a certain uneasy aloofness that just makes them more fascinating. Even when signposts to previous artists’ work seem to emerge (the jerking shuffle on “Oneiroi” occasionally evokes William Bennett’s brutalist Cut Hands project, the languid loping beats on “Serendip” and “Ainnome” call to mind a more minimal The Field, and there are hints of footwork at play on “Thrax”), they are quickly swallowed by the idiosyncrasies of Halo”s thoughtful personality. There is more at play here than just rhythm.
The disparate forms and tempos on Chance of Rain might easily have seemed distracting, but there is a singular vision at work here. On shorter, interlude-like, tracks such as “Dr. Echt” and “Melt”, Halo toys with elements of broken down ambient music, whilst tracks like “Thrax” and “Still/Dromos” are infused with slight hints of jazz, house and funk. In a world where electronic music is omnipresent, Laurel Halo succeeds on Chance of Rain in creating a distinctive voice, one that never allows the listener to settle into a sense of security.