Following the pop subversions and techno exercises, respectively, of her King Felix and Hour Logic EPs, Laurel Halo’s debut album Quarantine confirms the artist's thrilling, fearless range. While more concerned with exploring song structures than building grooves, Quarantine doesn't speak like a pop record. Instead, unexpectedly, it shares more with the folk of '70s sister trio The Roches, whose striking vocal harmonies at times converged with their instruments to the point of indistinction. Halo also uses her voice as instrument on Quarantine, at times layered in chorus as if she too were three. Resonating with an unpolished warmth like the analogue synths she has been known to favour, her vocals guide us through undulating, densely textured landscapes.
But the world she shapes is observed from a distance rather than inhabited. Quarantine imagines a hermetically sealed chamber from within which Halo sings of eye contact, letters, and signals cutting out. While sharply aware of the self-isolation that contemporary forms of communication encourage-- we’re not so far off the sea of hermits reaching out in disembodied form across the Internet that sci-fi writers once dreamt of--, Quarantine’s quarry is the impossibility of communication itself, a conundrum as old as the hills.
The failings of language provide the album’s arc. Halo’s gaze is brutally honest, yet she documents with tenderness every shade of emotion that springs from miscommunication, from the frustration of “Years” to the neediness of “Holoday”. On “Thaw,” fragments of conversation are caught like prehistoric mosquitos in amber to startlingly moving effect. By closing track “Light + Space,” it becomes clear that Quarantine has a rare restorative and cleansing power. “Words are just words that you soon forget” she sings, finding solace in memory’s knack for being cruel-to-be-kind, smoothing away life’s detritus. Yet, in so deftly capturing the minutiae of the fallout in our endeavors to connect, she preserves the moment for future understanding.