Laurel Halo Chance of Rain(Hyperdub) Buy it from Insound
There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to predict how you’ll feel about Laurel Halo’s latest release based on your opinion of her last one – Quarantine. Though it was something of a breakthrough record for the experimental electronic artist, Quarantine was nonetheless an incredibly divisive record if not for just one aspect – Halo’s vocals. Icy, unfiltered and unforgivingly ugly, Halo’s direct lyrics and uncomfortably bare voice provided an intensely jarring antithesis to the album’s dense digital landscapes, making it hard to ignore and even harder to not have a pretty clear opinion on. It was clearly a gutsy move on Halo’s part – most likeminded peers, like Daniel Lopatin and James Ferraro, prefer to let their synths do the talking – and, given the harshly divided response towards her – um, honest – vocals, you can’t blame her for exhibiting some self-doubt on such decisions.
But judging by the outcome of Chance of Rain, Halo’s latest release for Hyperdub, it’s becoming evident that she’d rather forget her previous effort’s risk-taking altogether. Those who found a major issue with Halo’s previous insistence on utilizing grueling vocals, rejoice, as Chance of Rain is carried solely by Halo’s otherworldly, minutely-detailed synth arrangements. But while Halo’s unique, incredibly vivid approach to sound construction is certainly enough to keep her latest album afloat; even Quarantine’s biggest skeptics will find it hard to deny that things feel less fresh this time around.
Pinning down just exactly what Laurel Halo does music-wise has always been a daunting task – she’s never really made the same album twice, and her sound often does an impressive tightrope walk between grotesque and serene, excelling in both but never settling on either for more than a moment. Chance of Rain, however, feels a bit easier to define by comparison, as it’s clear she’s taken many of her characteristic sounds and molded them into a more traditional techno album. The tracks are a bit lengthier, the beats are far more steady and propulsive, and Halo even occasionally allows for some hooky grooves to creep in, like the blunt, hypnotic melodies that frequently pierce Thrax. It’s certainly not shy of Halo’s sonic eccentricities and surprises, but front to back, you know what kind of record this is.
Laurel Halo making a techno record is just fine in my book, especially since she’s clearly proven her technical and imaginative know-how to pull one off. Unfortunately while Chance of Rain is certainly a dense and highly explorable record, very little of it sticks even after subsequent listens. When the album works, it is pretty entrancing, especially during dreamier cuts like Serendip and the title track, but more cluttered, busy tracks, like Oneiroi and Ainnome, tend to drag things down. Also, with most tracks confined to a recognizable techno structure, a genre built on groove and repetition, there’s very little room for any real standout moments which Quarantine, despite its unrelenting weirdness, had in spades.
Quarantine might have not been for everybody, but the shortcomings of Chance of Rain have only made that album’s positive elements seem even brighter. Despite its jarring vocal direction (which was at times brilliant as well as overdone), Quarantine proved to be a truly unique and enthralling experience, condensing her lush, visceral music into its most compact and singular form – each track felt wholly unique, and there was even the occasional pop song or two (well, almost). Chance of Rain, by comparison, is a good techno album, but never strives for much more than that. It’s a bigger adventure, for sure, but it never feels more adventurous.
And yes, I do miss her vocals. Sue me.7 November, 2013 - 16:33 — Peter Quinton