Laurel Halo's 'Raw Silk Uncut Wood' Meditates on Moments, Scenic and Manic

Photo: Silvie Weber

On Raw Silk Uncut Wood, Laurel Halo shifts her typically synthetic, dense approach to raw, uncut minimalism.

Raw Silk Uncut Wood
Laurel Halo


13 July 2018

While Laurel Halo's debut album Quarantine received much critical acclaim in 2012, she has done little to feed off the hype and everything to subvert expectations. What seemed to be her defining aesthetic moment quickly became a sound of the past as she boldly treaded onto new genre-bending excursions. Never settling into any stylistic territories, Halo's projects can be described by a litany of music descriptors: alt-pop, Detroit techno, IDM, and more. Hence, rather than a particular sound, Laurel Halo has become an artist that is defined by her versatility and the underlying perspective that brings it all together.

Laurel Halo's latest mini-album Raw Silk Uncut Wood continues her ever-evolving aesthetic journey into the new territory of raw sounds and uncut compositions, as alluded by the Tao Te Ching inspired album title. Her typically synthetic productions are supplemented by organic textures, collaborating with the cellist Oliver Coates and percussionist Eli Keszler. Her erratic song structures are focused into linear movements, resembling her recent soundtrack work on the Metahaven and Rob Schröder film Possessed. These radical changes culminate in six immersive compositions, in which moments, scenic or manic, are meditated upon to the fullest.

Raw Silk begins with the title track, a 10-minute instrumental that immediately establishes Halo's departure from the vocal-driven aesthetic of her 2017 album Dust. In the absence of a leading voice or guiding beat, textures venture with volition, sometimes veering into each other's lane. The humble keyboard progression leads the trip, as Oliver Coates follows with the melancholic cello, and intermittently, an overpowering organ crashes in, drowning out everything in its sonic path. It feels as if you just hit the nine-hour driving mark on a lost highway, slowly losing consciousness until a sudden swerve wakes up your hypnagogic car ride. As the opening track conjures a vivid scene, Halo prefaces her intentions to elicit such filmic moments throughout the mini-album.

Following the extended, scenic introduction, Raw Silk is compellingly disarranged by a trio of short, manic tracks. "Mercury" begins the descent into madness with Halo's abstraction of jazz. Bleak piano chords ring in time, as Eli Keszler drums into calamity. The snare and drumstick rolls stagger on top of each other, the cymbals clang in erratic successions, and the muffled toms rumble underneath it all. Next, "Quietude" progresses the hysteria with Halo's exploration into plunderphonics. Keyboard sounds are cut and looped until they lose their musical functions. The samples flitter in alternating series, sharp and loud, then blunt and low, until it harshly climaxes in a nearly unbearable frequency. Lastly, "The Sick Mind" completes the manic breakdown with Halo's deranged piano composition. In the similar effect of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee", layers of piano arpeggios circle relentlessly, as bass tones and 808 cowbells periodically chime in. It is a full embrace of the chaos "Mercury" commenced.

After the trio of manic tracks, the ambient interval "Supine" provides a brief resolve. Harmonious layers of shimmering electric pads, bouncing periphery synths, and an undulating holographic bass create a daunting wave of sound. However, the masterful production leaves you desiring more as it only drones for a minute and a half. Perhaps, following the trio of maddening songs, the briefness of "Supine" alludes to a fleeting cathartic moment that lifts you out from the torpor. Regardless, it, fortunately, leads into an even more beautiful, fully fleshed out closing track.

Raw Silk closes as it opened, with another 10-minute composition on "Nahbarkeit". The collaborative potential of Halo, Coates, and Keszler is fully realized as they share the most gorgeous song of the mini-album. The ambient piece begins with an entrancing conflict. Halo's synthesizers softly float over Keszler's banging drums. The dueling timbres ominously push forward as the synthesizers travel up the scale and various percussive instruments patter in the distance. However, once the noise dissolves, Coates' cello enters with a heavenly solo that makes sense of all the tension. By the end, the aforementioned conflict feels harmonious. The nuanced progression embraces contradictions and unfolds beauty in dissonance.

Whether Raw Silk Uncut Wood is the precursor to a forthcoming ambient full-length or just another stint of experimentation, Laurel Halo continues to break expectations in the most bemusing way. The mini-album is a beautiful practice of minimalism that also maintains her intricate perspective. Abstract ideas about instrumentation are explored with a handful of sounds; sweeping emotions and immersive environments are achieved within a linear song structure. Each composition reiterates that minimalism does not translate to simple or easy. Rather, it is about meditating on the basics to uncover their full potentials. As Ursula Le Guin translates Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, "what works reliably is to know the raw silk, hold the uncut wood… Forget the rules."






Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.