Laurel Halo: Chance of Rain
Similar Artists: Holly Herndon, Steve Reich, Maria Minerva
Laurel Halo is an artist who proudly and defiantly resists categorization. When she dropped her debut full length on Hyperdub last year after an enticing run of experimental EPs, little to no one knew what to make of it. Like her releases before it, Quarantine was pretty much acclaimed around the board, but there was also a sense of rabid confusion surrounding it: largely, with her untouched, often off-key vocals…among other odd production decisions. Listening to Quarantine now though — after the talk surrounding it has finally begun to slow — I think I finally get what Laurel was trying to achieve with it. While the word “post-pop” is thrown around a lot these days, I feel Laurel was the first artist to succeed in making an album worthy of that descriptor. Through its 12 beguiling tracks, Laurel playfully explored the surrounding aura of pop (if only for a few measures at a time), while simultaneously dissecting and reassembling its organs into her own mutant entity. It’s an enigmatic work that we most certainly won’t see anything like again…as it turns out even from her.
It’s all absurdly challenging too; Laurel isn’t simply hitting random buttons on her keyboards and hoping for something interesting to disperse. This talent of hers isn’t completely revealing though, as she is undoubtedly the next in line of those virtuosic musicians whose aims are so awkwardly skewed to the point that that we lose track of what they are trying to accomplish through the course of a track. A single 6 minute track may see Laurel flirting with techno, minimalism, noise, ambient and classical music, yetshe never fully indulges in any of them. While the combination of these genres isn’t unique in its own right, Laurel succeeds in forming them into a demented whole that is unique to her name. As those who have seen her perform live will say, Laurel’s brain seems to work in a loop that is far outside the norm (I’m personally willing to bet she’s on the Autism spectrum).
Her work thus far has been strange and beautiful (if not always enjoyable), but her vision continues to remain essential in the furthering of electronic music. On her latest full length, Chance of Rain, she takes a step back from the dizzying post pop of Quarantine and delves into an equally chaotic instrumental excursion that is by turns soothing and alarming. Quite like Beyond the Green Door — her EP from earlier this year — Chance of Rain is rooted in metallic techno with lush, environmental undertones. However, she has moved away from any four on the floor stability to more fully incorporate her wide stylistic capabilities.
Largely built out of a series of live improvisations, Chance of Rain takes the form of a metaphysical journey down a rabbit hole. The 9 consistently evolving tracks exist as a decomposition of what a proper techno set should sound like, and she has done a great job of putting the pieces in a discernible pattern. While each track unfolds sporadically, as an entire piece, Chance of Rain is brilliantly melded experience. Opener, “Dr. Echt”, as well as the closer, “-Out”, both focus on Laurel’s rubbery piano scales amidst waves of rising ambience. Another brief track, “Melt”, is a 2 minute foray into cinematic drones and out of place orchestral pieces. These shorter tracks are juxtaposed against epic 8 minute ones, such as the title track, which fades in and out of jazzy free floating piano chords and hard hitting bass stomps. “Ainnome” is similarly epic with its crystalline ambient textures and swelling beats. Still, the only track that comes close to being full on techno is “Thrax”, which is a constant build of gooey bass, noisy percussion and warped vocal samples. It’s the one crowd pleaser on an album that seems to be in a constant state of disagreement with the listener.
Just like her previous work, Chance of Rain is an album that is often very difficult to become immersed in. With its constantly changing foregrounds and backgrounds, these tracks are transient in nature, and will revolt against the casual listener. It’s an incredibly frustrating album — one of the most aggravating I’ve heard this year — but it’s for this reason that I have become compelled to it even more. So many albums have came out this year that I have initially raved about, only to realize I had become bored with them a few months down the road. From her ungrounded approach, to the out of this world cover art (drawn by her own father), to the way she plays tricks with the listeners perception, Chance of Rain is an album that will take countless more listens to wrap my head around. In this sense, Laurel Halo has given us a true gift; a puzzle that will take months or possibly even years to solve.
1.) Dr. Echt
4.) Chance of Rain*
Album Highlight – *