By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
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Laurel Halo recently finished touring Europe. While overseas, she learned how to say the equivalent of "Party hard!," the motto of fellow Ann Arborian Andrew W.K., in Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Portuguese.
Since returning home, she's forgotten how to say it. And despite not having a quantitative way to measure it, she thinks it's easier to perform as an electronic musician in Europe than the U.S.
"American audiences tend towards bands and guitars," she says.
While making music at her Brooklyn studio, she closes herself off, explaining that it's "the best feeling to completely strip the outside world from your head and just let music and ideas run without hesitation." She also cut herself off from the Internet, which was the inspiration for her previous work.
"The Internet makes everything simultaneously mysterious and commonplace."
Isolation is a fitting perspective for Quarantine, Halo's full-length debut on London-based electronic label Hyperdub. Progressing from 2010's Hour Logic EP and last year's King Felix EP, she stripped much of those albums' indie-pop percussion and vocal distortion. With Quarantine, she "spent more time on whys instead of whats." Throughout the album, low-frequency bass and soft chords trap the listener in an ambient dome with Halo's blemished voice and grim, mnemonic lyrics.
Quarantine's atonal dissonance may throw off some listeners and fans of her earlier work, but Halo doesn't care much. She even quoted a line from Sam Waterston's character in HBO's new show The Newsroom that reflects her nonchalance: "I'm too old to be governed by the fear of dumb people."
The "whys" in Quarantine include her fascination with science and how it relates to isolation. The album's gory cover (based on the painting Harakiri School Girls by Makoto Aida) features Japanese schoolgirls performing ritual suicide. The tracks "Tumor" and "Carcass" suggest a fascination with biology.
Halo brings up biological decay, which she notes in nature and life. Since her father was diagnosed with Parkinson's, she's noticed him becoming increasingly isolated by the illness, as the "resonance of his voice has progressively become muted over the years." Halo's own deteriorating hearing, the result of performing with "irresponsibly" loud sound systems, has in turn alienated her from her father, as she finds herself asking him to repeat himself. When speaking about bodies, she begins to personify a Lake Erie-sized body of water as a fleshy, Jabba the Hutt-like figure.
Halo then jumps back to physics, which appear in Quarantine's final track, "Light + Space." While she's excited by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson by scientists at CERN, she's impatient about its application, imploring scientists to take the next step. "Figure out why the boson gives us weight so we can get the fuck out of here already," she says. "Or at least use it to make some significant progress in medical research."