“What’s In my Bag?” can go a lot of ways, many of them rather inconclusive—New Order bought a Lady Gaga remix album for a daughter, Lightning Bolt seemingly bought a bunch of random shit with cool covers, and Krist Novoselic was included for some reason. In the case of Laurel Halo, however, the results are telling. Citing a rather misfit bag of avant-weirdoes—cult figure Father Yod turned out to be an interesting Wikipedia search seeing as he died by hang-gliding accident “despite having no previous hang-gliding experience”—Halo illuminates the loose rhythmic and melodic sensibilities of her latest album “Dust.”
Artists like the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Henry Flint only sidestep typical song-form and allow for jarring cuts in the program and the blurring of rhythmic structures as their acoustic collages fly through space. Halo fascinatingly places this ideology through an electronic music lens with tunes that throw together sketches of club beats and dive into complete abstraction in seemingly the same breath.
Although a hyperdub signee, Halo’s beats aren’t the straightforward, dance-able type. On the opening cut, sparse bass lines juggle non-militant snares as her slightly juxtaposed vocal lines clash over top. “Jelly” incorporates odd surface sounds that almost sound like taking a bite out of an apple. The mid-range again is disorienting as a reliable, but disjointed bass sound rumbles beneath. Perhaps the catchiest moment comes on “Moontalk” with the dazzling sounding sample and the fluid vocal lines, but overall Halo leaves you in a sort of liquid space not entirely dedicated to dance or abstraction.
The shorter cuts amplify this. As “Jelly” reaches its space-bound completion, “Koinos” centers odd ball rhythmic motions around a subtle, looping melodic device. Then wildly pitch-shifted vocals come through, adding to the hypnotic disorientation. “Nicht Ohne Risiko” is a jolting mix of angles as textures bathe between the minimal “Who Won?” and the album’s closest pop moment. Somehow, Halo never loses momentum on the album, but these tracks certainly pull the concept of time into a lot of different zones.
Halo’s lyrical sense is appropriately odd and occasionally charming. “You don’t meet my idol standards for a friend” charismatically bounces out on “Jelly.” “Who Won?” throws together some masterful political undertones as saxophones wander over top: “what’s the password…the house is very big I only have five dollars.” “syzygy” remains equally vague as Halo paints a despondent scene to complement her sonic gloom: “I was in a dead devil’s car she said get ready I turned my eyes away and she release an evil laugh…I said get up, I said tough love.”
On the other hand, Halo does tend to sneak up on her listener, which accomplishes an addicting aura as her collage somehow coalesces into one entity. As the despondence develops on the six-minute burn “syzygy,” that “tough love” couplet becomes a kind of hook with a lushness gradually building up with each passing repetition. “Do U Ever Happen” follows with rumbling undertones that eventually turn to late night synthy glory with layers of soulful earnesty.
Halo’s sonic world is wholly unique and her understanding of past avant-garde endeavors seems to drive her aesthetic ideology, making for an album equal parts out and slow burn. It won’t make sense on first listen, but you’ll come right back.