For a proponent of a genre that abstracts and digitizes the human to the point of epiphenomenal irrelevance, it’s probably apposite that Laurel Halo graces us throughout the duration of Behind the Green Door with the absence of her voice. Across the four tracks of the EP (named after the 70s porno), she doesn’t sing once, and those of us who considered her airy disjunctions one of the most addictive features of Quarantine might initially be deterred by the inorganic vacuum left by her mutism. Yet far from being the procession of insensate coldness and impersonal formality it might’ve been as a result, her latest record is in fact more direct and subtly purposeful than much of the material on her full-length debut.
Whereas that debut was often a gauzy amalgam of vertiginous swells and uterine arpeggios, the first thing you’ll notice about the music on Behind the Green Door is that it’s predominantly drier and more hard-edged, more anchored in the reassuringly earthy and concrete. A lucid yet nocturnal piano figure inaugurates “Throw,” and in concert with the accumulation of recognizable beats and machined percussion, its meditative insistence endows the piece with a humanly resolute sense of teleology, albeit one no less simulated through the logical constraints of computer programs and drum machines.
Like “Throw,” the subsequent numbers share in an ambulant, peripatetic mood and dynamic, a subliminal pursuit after some always receding terminus. It seems that, as with much of the wider electronica family, the EP’s understated gravity and tension largely resides in its paradoxical questing after a humanity that it itself has been complicit in eliding. Much of this journeying mobility derives from the almost continuous input of a firm rhythmic undertow, of computerized kick-drums and clipped snares that are progressively amassed with stuttering glitches and lustral washes. Close listenings to the disc furnish the notion that its songs are pregnant with a kind of guarded expectation, although unfortunately, for whatever endpoint it has in mind, no resolution is ever encountered. This is in part a function of an ostensibly trivial detail, which is that Halo doesn’t employ cadences in her music (harmonic or rhythmic), forcing her compositions to either fade out or simply dissemble piece by piece (a trait common to much electronic/ambient music). Yet while superficially insignificant, this structural decision complements an arguable symbolism of the music, intimating the inevitable frustrations of turning to technology in order to re-harmonize and integrate human emotion into the natural circles from which that very same technology has most likely alienated it.
These asides on the “pitfalls” of the technê are going too far, however, since human beings have from the beginning of their short history always been substantiated and defined through the extensions offered by their media and machinery. Moreover, we’re arguably at our most human whenever we subvert any trite pronouncement on what it is to be a featherless biped, with the implication here being that the quietly transgressive inclinations of Behind the Green Door ensure that it is as much a human artifice as any concerto, cantata, or carol. Insinuations of its unpredictable humanity occasionally surface at various junctures: during “NOYFB,” a recalcitrant 8-bit throbbing disturbs the patient geometry of the beats supposedly transporting it to its logical conclusion, while over the seven minutes of “Sex Mission,” the nearly danceable shuffle is accompanied and completed not by the formulaic inclusion of synthesized chimes or peppy keyboards, but by a subarachnoid pulsing that douses the potential workout in a stoical, interiorized light.
So if all this circumlocution has disclosed anything, it’s that Behind the Green Door is in many ways more approachable and less dizzying than the LP that preceded it, making for a listen that, while lacking in the moments of viscous intensity studding that LP, is nonetheless absorbing in its introspective machinations towards an unrealized goal (Becoming an organic “unity” equal to non-electronic music? Establishing an exploitable simulation of human affect and sentiment? Impossibly defining what emotion could be within an emotionless technocratic domain?). Its framework and color scheme may possibly end up as just a passing diversion for Halo, but it will still remain a captious rendering of where her craft and human-craft could one day go.