Quarantine – Laurel Halo

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Regardless of the fact that the Hyperdub label is revered for their superior bass science, there seems to be a number of releases from them this year suggesting that dance music does not define them. Laurel Halo's debut album certainly falls into that camp, herself an electronic music artist who is no stranger to the rhythm. Perhaps Quarantine can be looked at as the inverse of her previous techno exploits, a collection of rumbles and thumps that speak more to the brain than the body. Ambient and experimental cues waft throughout the album, freaking the pop formula in delightfully unnerving ways as Laurel makes her own voice the focal point rather than the rhythm.

The album is designed in such a way that you couldn't ignore her voice even if you wanted to. It pushes past the relaxing waves of sparkling synths on “Years,” only to belt out ironic lines like “You're mad 'cause I will not leave you alone.” Her vocal overdubs practically fall out of the speakers, far from pitch perfect but unflinching in honesty. Demented bells give way to warm keyboard textures on “Thaw,” the thunderous ruptures of sound underneath akin to earthquake aftershocks. “Don't get addicted to anything,” Laurel warns, sounding like one who speaks from experience, even if the illicit substance is only someone who won't return her affections.

For all of its beauty, Quarantine holds fast to an unspoken belief that there's always a slightly hideous undercurrent attached to even the most peaceful experiences. The percolating harmonies of “MK Ultra” provide the listener with an out-of-body astral flight, but that doesn't stop Laurel from singing about “hurricanes always coming.” Her vocals are disembodied and twisted on “Carcass,” splitting octaves in jarring fashion. The sun-kissed organ licks of “Morcom” are met with crackling static and a joyous Laurel singing “I got your letter in the morning,” only to be met with electro shock waves that burn through the angelic atmosphere.

Not every experiment is a successful one, but her attempts will keep you engaged until the very end. “Light and Space” is in the running for best closing track on an album this year, a combination of bittersweet orchestral maneuvers and vulnerable vocalizations. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that this album was released through Hyperdub. Just like the label, Laurel Halo is inextricably tied to bass, but doesn't always feel obligated to honor that relationship through something to dance to. Quarantine is a welcome sonic deviation for both parties, which should in no way suggest that they won't bring a little something for the party people next time around.