Thursday, 24 May 2012

Laurel Halo - Antenna (2011)

Laurel Halo (AKA Ina Cube) seems to be garnering press from every conceivable corner at the moment. I've read articles about her work in almost every music news source in my RSS feed over the past few months or so. When it was announced in March that she had inked a deal with esteemed UK dubstep / grime label Hyperdub to deliver her debut full length, things went crazy. I was intrigued enough to find out more and so I acquired the three EPs that she had released so far.

First up was the 'King Felix' EP on Hippos in Tanks from 2010. I was extremely underwhelmed by this one from the word go to be honest as to my ears, it sounded nothing more than a merely ordinary synth-pop record fronted by a singer who seemed to have taken her cues from 80's warblers Liz Fraser and Enya in equal parts. Nothing to see here. 

Next, I turned my attention to the 2011 'Hour Logic' EP, also on Hippos in Tanks. This seems to be the most widely regarded release thus far by Halo and has garnered quite a following amongst the electronic/techno cognescenti. It's certainly a side-step away from the previous EP in that the vocals are dropped entirely in favour of a more freeform approach to the music, but again, I didn't get on with it at all - it just sounded too polite, sterile and inert. There are far better examples of this particular oeuvre out there in my opinion.

And so finally, I reached the third release - a cassette titled 'Antenna' which was put out in 2011 by NNA Tapes, home to a number of one-off releases by several luminaries of the electronic and experimental underground. As I cued up the first track, I wondered how this EP would stack up against such a progressive catalogue and ruminated on the reasons why NNA Tapes had put out a release by someone whose previous material seemed to me to be completely at odds with their signature sound.

Then it hit me. The tape starts with 'Impulse', almost four minutes of billowing electronic drone underpinned by a gorgeous bass-weight rumble. A spare, wordless vocal loop is buried in the mix, bringing to mind the work of Mark Clifford's mighty Seefeel. More rumbling drones follow over the next few tracks, the abrasive textures softened by the addition of blooming synths and a shimmering haze of audio detritus. But the standout track is 'Heuristic Gag Factor' which is built around a lighter, more open textured drone where a rattling, metallic beat of sorts is gradually brought to the fore. The whole thing is over almost as soon as it starts though, five tracks in only seventeen minutes is way too short - I would have dearly loved to see this scant EP developed over the course of a long player. 

So, I can't recommend anything by Laurel Halo but 'Antenna', it's just a mystery to me why she doesn't persue this direction a little more as the results are far more engaging than those of her other EPs. The limited issue cassette version of 'Antenna' is still available over at NNA Tapes and contains seven tracks rather than the five which are included in the widely available digital version.

Postscript - After listening to advance transmissions from Halo's debut album 'Quarantine', I'm left with the same feelings as above. The album sounds to me like an amalgam of the 'King Felix' and 'Hour Logic' EPs so, if your interest is piqued after reading this post, tread carefully before you decide to purchase.

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