At first glance, the cover art for Laurel Halo's Quarantine promises goodtime summer vibes, featuring as it does smiling schoolgirls in neon pastels. Closer inspection reveals, however, that they are actually committing harakiri. Small wonder then that Halo's debut album - which builds on the success of 2011's Hour Logic and King Felix, and this year's Spring EP (under her King Felix moniker) are about breakdown or collapse. Take "MK Ultra", for instance, with its memorable "hurricanes always coming" refrain. Then there is the pitch-bending that drives the bassline and melody of "Thaw".
Halo's fans' comments on her YouTube channel praise her songs for their similarities to video games. Indeed, Halo - who was born Ina Cube and who grew up in Ann Arbor before moving to Brooklyn - was originally interested in making interactive video art, but found the technology limiting. "It never felt interactive, it always felt like the technology was this glory hole you'd stick a dick into and be stimulated by the sheer pleasantry of shit," she explains. "I prefer music because it's more immediate and eternal; you're not relying on the stimulus of what is essentially a metaphor."
Halo's voice is languid, impassioned yet detached, as if singing in a second language. Her haunting guest vocal on Games' song "Strawberry Skies" recalls '80s Italo diva Valerie Dore. "They invited me to record at this killer studio in midtown Manhattan at midnight. The Roots were also there at the time, and the whole place was one giant weed cloud. So it was more just for fun than anything."
On "Years", from Quarantine, she twists a few sampled, improvised phrases about a broken relationship around each other, so their meanings shift and clash. How important are lyrics? "I think about the shape of the words, syllable trails and vowel/ consonant patterns," she says. "How a word sounds flying out of your mouth. That's more interesting to me than creating some kind of theatrical arc, because vocals are the ultimate rhythmic element. If you drown your shit in reverb and echo, it'll just sound like everyone's ethereal ear paste!"
There is more than enough of that already circulating. For Laurel Halo, "good production sounds big, clear and rich. More than that, the music has to have soul.
You can hear as much on, "Just A Little Ready", a track she co-wrote with Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy for Brooklyn singer Lauren Devine. It is shiny, catchy pop perfection. "It's a fantasy of mine," she smiles, "to be a mega-hit songwriter for the future Rihannas of the world."
Quarantine is out now on Hyperdub.