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Laurel Halo – Quarantine review

You can’t deny that Hyperdub is moving away from its original mooring to another place within electronic music. Purists will bemoan it, critics will pontificate upon it, and loyalists will champion it. Whatever the case, the label now stands as a reflection of Kode9’s broad tapestry of musical vision, and that’s presently a sound that reaches from DVA’s  technicolour bump of Pretty Ugly to the recent Hype Williams-but-not offering from Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland. Now we have something equally adventurous (both in art and Kode’s A&Ring) from Laurel Halo.

Two years ago very few people would have been familiar with the work of Halo (real name Ina Cube), as she crept out on a split release for Rvng Intl. and put out the King Felix EP. To move so quickly and with such little output to a high-profile LP release is no mean feat, but there’s an undeniable sparkle in her music that allures the listener with ease and grace. What sets Quarantine apart from the music Halo has made so far is that her voice takes something of a central role in most of the tracks. Her croons have been heard bubbling in the mix of older ouput, heavily treated and processed to meet with her textural compositions, but here they ring through stark and pure. Beyond layers of harmonising accompaniment, it’s rare to hear any kind of effect on her arrestingly naïve delivery, and it makes the music all the more powerful.

“Thaw” represents a key distillation of the methods and intentions that have seemingly gone into the album. It comes to life on a bed of tones left over from the previous track, and even when there’s little more than a plaintive synth riff at work there already exists a polite cacophony of unidentifiable low end rumble and texture. There’s a definite wall-of-sound approach to Halo’s production, and so even a song as pastoral as “Thaw” acquires a monolithic quality, making an epic out of seemingly humble means. Above all this mellifluous sound is Halo’s voice; confident yet also ever so slightly cracking around the edges. In a recent interview she claimed that turning away from effecting her vocals gave a human edge to the music, and it’s true. In some ways the woozy production shares a spirit with the likes of Hype Williams and Maria Minerva, but the purity of her singing instantly bores its way into your heart in a way those other artists never quite manage to.

There’s plenty of detail to be gleaned from the myriad layers of sound Halo employs, but the real magic of this album is in the way every track interweaves until you can’t be sure where one ended and another begins. It’s an intentional move which lends itself to the sun-bleached ambience and youthful exuberance of the music, as if soundtracking Super 8-shot memories of childhood summers. Just listen to the opening chords of “Morcom” if you need further proof of what the hell I’m on about.

Oli Warwick


1. Airsick
2. Years
3. Thaw
4. Joy
5. MK Ultra
6. Wow
7. Carcass
8. Holoday
9. Tumor
10. Morcom
11. Nerve
12. Light + Space