Laurel Halo's latest release as King Felix evokes the stillness of extreme speed, says Charlie Robin Jones.
Earlier today I wrote a piece about the latest track from Laurel Halo’s King Felix project, Armstrong Limit. Because it was early and I’ve been been fascinated by the was-he-wasn’t-he furore surrounding possible doper and definite Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong, I made a few bad puns and left it at that. It turns out that the tune is actually about mega-high flying. When you’re up above the troposphere, the air is very thin. It’s why jet fighter pilots wear those awesome masks. Fly over 12 miles up – just above what’s called the Armstrong limit – without a pressure suit, and the density is so low, your bodily fluids boil. Imagine – tears and saliva turning into water vapour and your heart pumping exploding blood through molten capillaries, just at a height the earth curves.
Electronic music has long fetishised velocity. Off the top of my head, you have the Zang Tuum Tumb futurists imagining airplanes the size of castles, Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’, Model 500’s Nightdrive (Thru-Babylon) and Orbital’s M25 grand tour. Laurel Halo has herself played with the idea of transport, writing her ‘Hour Logic’ EP about the feelings of mass transit. The fact there were no references to old Metros aside, it perfectly captured the dense, discordantly sensual effect and queer distancing of speeding through cities on packed trains. Armstrong Limit is a clearer ode to a cleaner end than you could ever find on the ground, or under it.
In Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, he interviewed the Air Force captains that fly test planes further and faster than anyone before in the aftermath of the space race. The brave Chucks and Scotts report nothing more than an easy nonchalance about the risks. Having gone beyond vertigo, there’s little else to do but shrug your shoulders when on earth, I suppose. Some of their comrades must have hit the Armstrong limit, but they’re more interested in having a beer and a barbecue and getting back up. Perhaps it’s something to do with that odd stillness that exists at incredible speed. Bodies are held static and light from speed, apparently, the unimaginable tension of flying a several ton lump several times faster than sound pauses the mind like those snatches in the final act of 2001.
Which brings us back to the track Armstrong Limit. Still yet surging, with a climax that lasts the length of the song, it’s controlled yet sublime, reaching for an velocity where veins turn viscous. It feels fast and slow, like ascending wrapped in a really, really high-tech plane. Working with a template of tones taken from synth and techno, she’s leaving the world way behind and beneath. Icarus flew too high and dropped like a stone. High in the stratosphere, Bart Simpson spat down and dropped off the escalator to heaven. But at the Armstrong limit, Laurel Halo is rushing forward, straight into the deep blue.