- There's a track on Laurel Halo's first album, 2012's Quarantine, called "Joy." At first it glows with warmth, but after a while dissonant chords cool the mood. On a record full of angst and paranoia, the message seemed to be that joy was something lost, or unattainable. Halo's music since has pursued the emotion. On 2013's Chance Of Rain, she ditched the anguished singing to focus on spry drum tracks inspired by her live sets; at the time, she wondered if "this is the kind of music that I'm meant to make, because it just makes me feel better. It's more of a joyous process." Dust, her latest and best LP, returns to vocals but goes one further: it's "the happiest album I have made."
This happiness often sits on the surface of the music, like sweat forming on pores. "Sun To Solar" warps with luxurious heat; lyrics elsewhere describe "red and pleasantly hot vistas of sand and trees" and a "Pacific street of sunset building." The album's highlights are sunny pop songs like "Jelly," where New York house chords, piano and percussion circle one another with an improvisatory grace Halo has been perfecting for years. The bouncing "Moontalk" is straighter, buoyed by guitar licks from Michael Beharie and a jaunty chorus in Japanese (the word "congratulations" features heavily, according to Google Translate). Later, the warmth subsides into a balmy evening glow. "Like An L" is android quiet storm, all sighing snare brushwork and keyboard smear; "Syzygy" features the refrain, "I said get up, I said time for love."
This being Laurel Halo, however, things aren't quite so straightforward. These brighter tracks alternate with the likes of "Koinos," "Arschkriecher" and "Nicht Ohne Risiko," where Halo and her collaborators conjure more ambiguous moods. (Percussionist Eli Keszler is particularly central to the album's gorgeous unsettled feel.) Halo's singing can be puzzling too. Where Quarantine was ultimately a first-person confessional, Dust's perspective fractures and shifts, whether through vocalists (Klein, Lafawndah) or Halo's cryptic texts. At the album's midpoint is the rainy "Who Won?," with a mundane monologue from Michael Salu. ("What's the phone number? What's the password? Who won?")
Even Dust's brighter moments often harbour shadows, and are all the more interesting for it. Is the sing-song passage in "Jelly"—"You don't meet my ideal standards for a friend / And you are a thief, and you drink too much"—in dialogue with the verses, a mocking quote, or describing an uninvited guest? When Halo opens dub-tinged ballad "Do U Ever Happen" with an image of "Four friends / A car, a field, a lake," why does she then darken it with "Incest and insects... slime and reeds"? In the next line, she's doubting the memory altogether: "Did this ever happen?" Halo's records have always posed tricky questions, and Dust features her most complex and engrossing yet.
01. Sun To Solar
06. Nicht Ohne Risiko
07. Who Won?
08. Like An L
10. Do U Ever Happen