Experimental electronic musician Laurel Halo is someone for whom electronic music offers endless possibilities for invention and distortion. Her work ever since she debuted with the bewitching techno of her earlier King Felix and Hour Logic EP’s has been characterised by shifts in persona, form, and a recurrent tension. While Halo’s music has always been electronic in form, the creation is very much human and organic.
Halo’s previous album, 2012’s critically acclaimed Quarantine, now stands out as something of an anomaly in her extremely impressive small discography. Techno rhythms and club dynamics were largely eschewed in favour of delicate wispy soundscapes with her strikingly pure voice front and centre. Chance Of Rain is a direct reaction against that album’s overtly performance-based melodic approach. The inherent darkness in her music returns on an album that is entirely instrumental and rooted in the deepest depths of experimental electronica.
Curiously, this may be perhaps Halo’s most honest work. In interviews following Quarantine’s success she has spoken of feeling uncomfortable about having to make recognisably song-based, vocal-led music. Here, she returns to the sanctuary of her machines and instruments. The aural physical voice may be suppressed but the voice Halo expressed with her music, a sort of digital glossolalia, is arguably more powerful.
The music on Chance Of Rain is broadly identifiable as club based dance music. But every track is skilfully filled with diverting and discombobulating nuances, stretching, teasing and, at times, brutalising the music into something quite singular. It’s a simple yet highly effective approach. There is a rough, scrappy and almost industrial quality to the music. Oneirai introduces a relentless, gnarled, heavily percussive rhythm that writhes feverishly throughout its seven minutes. The beat seems to be hammered out on a block of wood while percussion that sounds like the clattering of pots and pans whirl away in the background. It’s a dizzying concoction. This and the other pieces of music collected here often veer between dream like bliss and nightmarish desperation with ease.
While the music is oblique and allusive, there are plentiful opportunities for dance floor expression. The music is challenging, but never difficult or impenetrable. Serendip broods and lurks before overpowering with a great wave of lost ghostly echoes of rave. It’s evocative and alluring in a way that dance music rarely sounds. In this way, Halo’s music equally references the hyper experimental early days of electronic pioneers like Autechre or contemporary musicians reaching towards the outer limits of techno experimentation like Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s no stretch to place Laurel Halo in that lineage.
As well as its insistent thrum of tension, there are moments of blissful beauty that gave Chance Of Rain much needed balance. Melt is a lovely reflective moment of release, as is the askewed music box lullaby of -Out that closes the album. Yet despite these moments of gauzy reverie, the album is at its best when all of Laurel Halo’s creative energies and impulses coalesce into a glorious cacophony of beats, rhythms and sounds, as best exemplified on the thrilling and invigorating sonic attack of Thrax.
Chance Of Rain is undoubtedly a markedly different record in creation and expression than Quarantine. Anyone enthralled by the previous album may feel there is something missing here. Instead, what we have is the true expression of the artist finding salvation in musical release and forging new paths using established forms.