Album of the Week: Laurel Halo – ‘Chance Of Rain’

28.10.13

The music of Laurel Halo is rarely an easy listen; there’s an element of patience and perseverance necessary to appreciate her records, but like most things in life, a result easily achieved is never really satisfying. It took me, for example, several listens to properly begin to engage with ‘Chance of Rain’, the New York based artist’s second album since ‘Quarantine’, not even a year after the fact, completely different but equally as challenging. With no single element to hold on to – an anxious and evasive techno rhythm here, a rare and crumbling human voice there – it wasn’t until I noticed the near-tangible distortion of a recurring sample of a sneeze, over a clocking beat and heaving reverb in Oneirai, that I was finally drawn into the dense sonic universe Laurel Halo develops ever-so-subtly. 

Where in ‘Quarantine’ you could easily seize on her jarring unprocessed vocal – violently grafted onto the liquid ambience of a song like Thaw – as the source of (dis)comfort, that element of tension and conflict isn’t so easy to grasp in ‘Chance of Rain’. Life is never that simple, and in these nine tracks built around live hardware improvisations, Laurel Halo’s is an inward look at the outside effects of technology, commuting, the hopeless search for alien life and the impact of her dad Arthur Chartow’s visual art on her work. There’s a deep-set introspection that you can feel in the murky and muffled underscore of closer –Out – a ubiquitous awareness of “the beyond” that makes ‘Chance of Rain’ so fascinating. 

Quite literally reflecting the elusive nature of her work, the meanings of track titles are corrupted, leaving their intentions (if there even are any) just out of reach, no matter how deep you dig. There’s Oneirai, potentially a corruption of "oneiroi": a dream, dream hunters or Greek gods born through parthenogenesis – literally imagined into existence. There’s reference to Laurel Halo’s consistent obsession with outer space in the expansive upward movement of Serendip (Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations), as well as fantasy and mythology, or both, in Thrax: a reputed son of the god of war or, more appropriately, the “City of Windowless Rooms” in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. 

That’s an ideal allusion to the isolation, coincidental or not, that ‘Chance of Rain’ evokes. Here the blinds are down and the lights are off, as Laurel Halo turns inwards to a slightly paranoid obsession with the human emotional spectrum. The crude and simplistic happy/sad dichotomy is repeatedly disrupted here, whether it's in the submerged, playful ambience of Dr Echt (does she mean "drecht", as in, a “place where ships are pulled or carried across the land” or a Dutch friend with a PhD?) or the surging flight of Ainnome (I’ve got nothing)? 

All clues and no conclusions, ‘Chance of Rain’ becomes a muffled musical excavation of what lies beneath, while never really finding anything; there are no words to apply to a mood to make it real. Still/Dromos again hints at that false good/bad emotional duality, while frustrating it by applying an elusive reference to movement in the Greek architectural term for "passageway" and evoking a sense of the commute, perhaps by train, through the squeak of metal against metal, rushing wind, extraneous, garbled chatter and the unnatural tension of being stationary yourself, while being borne along space and time, contained in a moving object or sound itself. 

This disrupted transmission or barely perceptible dream state dismantles Laurel Halo’s earlier work, as it descends into the foggy depths of music at its core – as a mode of expression that can communicate things that words can’t. Suspended in that moment of anticipation, trepidation even, that its title ‘Chance of Rain’ alludes to, an unearthly motion and nostalgia is reflected in the resonant fragments of raindrops on a water pipe out of sync with a looping keyboard sample in its title track. A loitering wind instrument – a certain yearning reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s 'Replica' – fades out of Melt, and a lonesome piano from a cruise ship cut adrift in –Out, articulates a certain pleasure in pain that Laurel Halo is extrapolating on. As she says in an recent interview with Dummy, “it’s the end of the night blues and you’re going home alone.” 

8/10

Hyperdub released ‘Chance of Rain’ on the 28th October 2013.