Laurel Halo Dust

[Hyperdub; 2017]

Styles: virtual, actual, groove, light, play
Others: Laurel Halo, Arthur Russell, Julia Holter, Kathy Acker, Maya Deren

“My sound is probably a matter of simultaneously having that no-mind mentality, that floating in the ether quality, while still having an amount of soul and a certain amount of emotion — without venturing too far into either territory. That region between virtual and actual.”
– Laurel Halo, interview with The Quietus, 2011

“There’s a lot of weight to the word “dust,” in terms of a process of change, or a process of becoming, or a process of resolution.”
– Laurel Halo, interview with The FADER, 2017


Dust, Laurel Halo’s third full-length, is bright and loose, a collection of tracks dancing at the borders of entropy. United in their restlessness, they probe at the foundations of structure and form, always unfolding, always moving towards. In Halo’s hands, that aforementioned liminal space “between virtual and actual” becomes bathed in warm sunlight, and her music responds in kind: melting and molding itself into hazy shapes, all the while retaining a sharpness that rends and sutures. Exploratory and improvisational, Halo and her collaborators — Klein, Lafawndah, Eli Keszler, Julia Holter, Max D, Craig Clouse (of Shit and Shine), Michael Beharie, Diamond Terrifier, Michael Salu — have created a soundworld of productive tensions and rich vibrations, flecked with beauty, felicity, and humor.

The album begins with the inside-out dub of “Sun to Solar,” an assemblage of jaunty keys, skulking bass, and mutating voices. Its giddy, staccato mien brings to mind some of Arthur Russell’s dancefloor excursions, the groove discontinuous, heady — part mist and part smog. Its components dance around each other, churning and shuffling, coinciding for a measure before returning to flux. The lyrics are similarly diaphanous: spoken from several positions simultaneously, colliding with each other, hovering above legibility. With grace and precision, the stage is set, the listener brought gently into this nomadic network of sounds, one whose shifting mesh is always making space for spontaneous emergences, potentialities, and virtualities.

Album highlight “Jelly” is more compressed, favoring curt and close sounds, with its claps sharp and melodies curved. Halo’s lyrics are cunning, striking out sharply (“You don’t meet my ideal standards for a friend/ And you are a thief/ And you drink too much,”) before turning inward (“Sometimes I know/ Not to drink too much”). It’s a fractured poetics, referential and pointed, a series of directions and relations, crossing and uncrossing (“My eyes/ Back there/ In the/ Mirror/ Where I/ Left them”). Like those eyes, the music moves, taking up positions, occupying space, becoming mediated by glass and glassy digitalia alike. These movements are seamless and their transitions fluid, guided by texture and resonance.

“Jelly’s” lyrics betray an undercurrent of darkly comic surrealism that becomes more apparent on tracks like “Moontalk” and “Syzygy.” The former is perched on the verge of becoming, accumulating sonic detritus — voicemail jingles, laughter, clicks and whirrs — and packing them into disarming pop constructions that explode in volleys of bright color and noise. Buoyed by this insistent motion, Halo finds herself in a speculative mode: “And what if in your sight/ You met a charging tank/ Their shells had no aftertaste/ And the soldiers went down fine.” Gorging herself on tanks and soldiers, Halo’s protagonist dances on the thin wedge separating actual and virtual, as strings surge and a mobile guitar figure tumbles past her; the comic and the tragic, the morbid and the joyful running through each other like jet streams.

On “Szygy,” ambulatory bass and polymorphic, insectoid textures serve as the ground for Halo’s oneiric, quasi-Thelma and Louise narrative (“I was in a death-devil’s car/ She said get ready”). Again, her surrealism is pointed, using its dream-drift to touch on female solidarity (“Then she licked my leg/ And gave me some sisterly advice”) and escapism. Like the heroine in a Kathy Acker novel, these characters puncture the boundaries of the social and enter into new territory both fraught with danger and rife with potential.

In astronomy, the word “szygy” means “a conjunction or opposition, especially of the moon with the sun,” an apposite description of Halo’s compositional approach on Dust, which revels in (dis)continuities, loops, and interconnections. Szygy is also the name of a digital branding agency, whose aim, according to their website, is to produce “The greatest happiness for the greatest number.” This utilitarian approach to happiness has been used by some of the world’s biggest brands, including Facebook, for their controversial (read: neocolonial) internet.org project. It is indicative of the artful nature of this album, its sly attentiveness to the sonic geographies and political textures of the contemporary, that this connection is both felicitous and unsurprising.

Szygy’s landing page.

Dust is then a remarkable accumulation of disruptions and attachments, gaseous parts and shifting centres. Coherent in their incoherence, playful in their experimentalism, its tracks unfold smoothly, their trunks buzzing with magnetism, attracting the attention of pealing bells, skronking sax, and dub-techno beats. Like Arthur Russell, this is pop music as experiment, a meshing together of approaches and traditions, a playful mixture of tone poems, percussive excursions, and off-kilter melody. It feels liberatory, easy. Throughout, Laurel Halo acts as the animating force, that which marshals collaborators and sounds alike, threading them through each other, so that they may swirl and probe, laugh and dance, before disappearing into a haze of delightful noise.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read