With an obsessive determinism to sharpen her sonic palette, Laurel Halo finds a home at Honest Jon’s with a graceful and fascinating blueprint for releases yet to come on her latest, In Situ, a double EP marked by perfectionism. The record appears to hearken back to her first instrumental release, 2011’s Antenna, a collection that saw her shifting away from her heady, abstract pop material to become more attuned to making music with sound and shape as the focus. As with In Situ, those songs were ambient, ecological sketches. With the current release, the basic structure of each of each track is revealed at their very beginning, followed by a reconfiguring as each progresses. In a way, it’s similar in approach to Actress‘s work on Splazsh, or much of Drexciya‘s output. There’s a speculative feel with this approach, especially given her introduction of modular-synth work and her dub and world-music influences.
The EP begins with the pointedly titled “Situation”: Built around high-frequency bells, an aquatic, drifting piano line and staunch drums, the song’s feel sits between that of a mesmerizing Basic Channel workout and the spectral ambience of Oren Ambarchi‘s Suspension. The track swings and topples, as it develops and dissolves all at once. On this track, as on the others, is no structural payoff, per se—no “ah ha” moment in which the pieces all come together to wash over the listener, as with her past works. Instead, there’s a drifting aura, ushering you from one track to the next.
Elsewhere on the EP, there’s a sense of her desire to build a more congealed, material music, picking up where Aphex Twin left off with his ambient works. “Nebenwirkungen” recalls a standard Hessle Audio cut or a track from Kassem Mosse, but stretched out and dismantled even more than they allowed.
The aim here seems to be slippage: Rotating, percussive synth lines build momentum as broken techno drum patterns attempt to bridge together the individual melodic parts, submerged in deep bass pressure. This is readily apparent on “Drift” which uses a muscular, all-consuming kick drum as the core, while various metallic objects funnel around caught in the broken established groove. The closer, “Focus 1,” takes on Afro-jazz with a Vladislav Delay mindset, scooting along for eight minutes while a improvised lead piano line glosses over.
In Situ is ultimately beautiful in design, and speaks quite a bit to where Laurel could potentially go, now that she’s spent some time exploring her understanding of sound design and club music. You can definitely hear her thinking her way through each track, treating each as packets of sound, to be observed and experienced in a loop. - XLR8R