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Laurel Halo

Chance of Rain

(Hyperdub; US: 29 Oct 2013)

Chance of Rain hinges on contingencies. Its title works as a sly, suggestive joke, hinting at the storm that might come, if only Laurel Halo would let it. Instead, she spends the record zoning in on her music under the microscope, scrolling through it in fragments. If it feels less organic than Quarantine, which was driven by Halo’s vocals and an uncanny ability, on her part, to know exactly the right moment for them, it’s because it’s supposed to. This record is about what happens when Halo abstains from the moment, not just from her voice. You can hear it in the way “Ainnome” pounds with a discreet, mechanical beat for three minutes before locking into something bigger than itself, developing phases of ambient sheen that take on a grander purpose than any breakbeat. It gives off the feeling of a record that is checking itself, letting its human elements filter in both by development and retreat. Without Halo at the helm, deciding on it, this music just keeps thumping—with her, the artifice feels tended to.


In that sense, the anonymity of Chance of Rain disappears; it may be an unsung record, but its authorial intent is strong, seen in every attempt to mystify a sound that could otherwise maintain itself. An anonymous record couldn’t do the things that this one does; it couldn’t be so sporadic and still maintain its strong bonds of logic, and it couldn’t hit the breaks at the last minute, like Halo does with the rustling, low-key looping of “Still/Dromos”. This is her record, one that shines through past the sterile beauty of Quarantine and the one-track-minded Behind the Green Door. The key to making contact with Chance of Rain is in connecting it to Halo and her wicked sleight of hand. 


The contained IDM aggressions taking place on Chance of Rain feel both built to and unexpected, a result of Halo’s highly fragmented vision. Watching Halo’s Boiler Room set is enough to get a sense of the introspection she wields this music for, and so while “Thrax”, with its grotty, hissing beat and a nauseating synth line, goes hard through to the conclusion of its repetitious six minutes, what’s more interesting is the record’s set up. What’s fascinating is “-Out”, the candid piano scrap that calls time; here, the tone is relaxed, Halo aware of its unfussiness in the way a hotel lobby pianist knows their place playing adult contemporary. The acoustics have the easy, comforting feel of home, and perhaps surprisingly so. After hearing Behind the Green Door, an EP that focused on the process of Halo’s more claustrophobic electronic compositions to the point of keeping her a secret, this is a moment where one can imagine her comfy and unobstructed in the studio, focusing squarely on herself. Clocking in at less than two minutes, it’s a fleeting moment, but that makes its clash against the inhumane, razor-sharp tracks before it even more jarring.

There’s a depth to Chance of Rain that works both ways. You can hear it in “-Out” and “Dr-Echt”, the striking, minimal song fragments that decidedly fuck up the record’s flow, turning it into something altogether more free-form, even jazzy; so too, though, can you hear it in the tightly-wound tracks Halo ultimately wraps the record around. “Thrax” owes a lot of its progression into a sinister and surreal piece of clockwork techno to its lesser known sounds: the artificial chimes that can be heard with the establishment of a stronger beat, and the barely-heard chords that start as the track heads to the periphery of its being. Even the changeovers between these songs feel jarring; “ Ainnome” starts up just as the sounds of “Thrax” have started to wash over. Chance of Rain compresses a lot of sound into its forty-five minute run time, either by Halo generously sprinkling motifs into her compacted jams, or by making the record skitter on the outside. “Chance of Rain” crashes in a conflation of the two, its beat suppressed for a syncopated synth-line that takes control.


The focus of Chance of Rain should be on the question of how it gets made. It’s a record with an elliptical force exerting itself on something altogether more mechanical; the cover art, an illustration by Halo’s father, attests to this, taking the drudgery of a work-late, watch-checking morning and placing it firmly in the afterlife. It’s a scene of possibility that wraps it around what we might consider inevitable, even necessary.  Such is one very obvious reason to consider Halo a visionary artist, in spite of her project’s ever-changing wavelength; she sees the capacities of electronic music, and wonders what it takes for it to exist at all.

Rating:

Robin Smith can be contacted by email.


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