Laurel Halo: Quarantine (Hyperdub)
Finally, Laurel Halo’s debut album has arrived, curiously on Hyperdub, the UK bass music label responsible for delivering unto us such acts as Burial and Kode 9. Fans of her particularly unique blend of leftfield vocal pop and synth music needn’t worry though; she’s no closer to the Hyperdub roster’s sound than she was before… if anything she’s even further leftfield. What’s most striking about Quarantine is how heavy on the vocals it is, particularly after her last two EPs (last year’s outstanding Hour Logic and this year’s Spring EP under her King Felix alter ego) were primarily instrumental. Despite how prominent her voice is on Quarantine, however, often times it turns into its own instrumental arrangement, such as on the strangely affected sighs of “Wow” or the disjointed vocalizations of “Holoday.” Elsewhere her lyrics and vocals are front and center, and while I don’t always love the outcome, I give her props for taking chances and not being afraid to make her voice sound weird and sometimes even shrill (“Years,” “Carcass”). It’s when she colors outside the lines on tracks like these that makes the album so bold and odd, falling in line with the output of Björk or Julia Holter as some of the more interesting vocal and electronic leftfield pop music coming out these days. Even still, there’s something so vivacious about the energy in her music, something that’s been missing for me from Björk’s music for years now — a song like “Morcom” has just as wandering a nature as much of Biophilia, but it ties into the rest of the sound of the album in a way that’s far more appealing to my ears. The balance between dreamy vocal tracks like “Thaw” and their more abrasive counterparts (“Carcass”) is healthy, with some of her knack for sprawling electronic landscapes thrown in for good measure. This combination of sounds along with her unique voice (literally and figuratively) makes Quarantine an exciting listening experience from start to finish.