Review Summary: Episodes of an empty apartment and absentee cliff notes
Though 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. That her bedrock should settle on the familiar is of no surprise (synth pop and rhythmic ambience are both principal factors here), it’s how Halo treats her sound that makes her simultaneously alluring yet frighteningly harrowing to absorb.
Interestingly, it’s the after effects of her music that resonate the most; while an indifferent and puzzling listen, Quarantine
is a surprisingly easy pill to swallow. Those who bought in to James Blake’s open declarations of empathy and regret should have no trouble saddling a similar weight here. Both artists also approach their cause in a similar fashion: while Halo has never shied away from adopting her own musings into the puzzle, Quarantine
freely employs its artist’s voice as its greatest weapon. Tracks are built on little more than a scratchy soot-laden synth arrangement and her own unpolished dialect. Bereft of layering and processing her words (when clearly discernible) take on an authoritative and powerful quality, they ache and crack under their own forcefulness.
What occasionally holds the album back, yet does nothing to offshoot the emotional core of Quarantine
, is that many of the tracks here are intentionally disjointed, fragments of the idiosyncratic spirit that’s pioneered them. Much of the material here begins fully-formed, as if we’ve somehow overlooked their introduction and build and arrived instead only at some pivotal moment of their structure. Every frozen melody and monolithic rumble feels so laden down with not just detail but spiritual weight that Quarantine
plays out like a journal – peppered with floating notes and snippets of self-worth rather than a clear narrative structure. Which ultimately gives the album its brazenly hypnotic allure, how it not so much avoids structure but instead takes the concept purely on its own terms. That the album’s proclivity to rattle rather than charm should feel so immense, be it through its illuminating yet jagged shards of humanity or through its crackling wall of sound delivery, it’s still based on an almost playful and youthful exuberance.
The album’s foreign identity is perhaps best summed up with ‘Thaw’, a track that awakens amidst the demise of its predecessor and shifts its woozy production into a paradigm of billowing basement dwelling percussion and the blanketing sounds of a distant storm. Laurel, as if reading from the dog-eared pages of a long misplaced journal, stands in the calm centre of this fury and matches the turmoil, not in aggression but with the same naïve dedication. Her words, here and the body of language that fills up the chamber halls of her world, seem recalled from another life but are treated with honesty and care – for Laurel, everything still remains as open and revealing as the day they were written.
should be a humbling experience, but there’s a certain air of gravitas about the whole thing that makes it seem so much larger than life. The beauty of the album is that it somehow manages to balance its whimsical nature with the utterly alien landscape it chooses to employ. It ends up being a mixed bag of give and take, but as an assault on all senses it always manages to succeed.