Hour Logic EP
(Hippos in Tanks; 2011)
By Andrew Hall | 6 July 2011
If nothing else, Laurel Halo can be given credit for staying in motion. The follow-up to last year’s quite good King Felix EP, on which she established herself as a creator of a digital pop that was hers and hers alone, Hour Logic is a turn in an almost entirely different direction, one not at all foreshadowed by her earlier work. Instead of developing that style further, the EP presents several longer pieces rooted in ambient techno that feel considerably less propulsive or immediately gripping than their predecessors.
If there’s one sonic quality that defines this shift, it’s the placement of Halo’s voice throughout these songs. While her earlier work placed it at or near a song’s forefront, Hour Logic rarely does this, using it almost solely for textural purposes. Only one track, “Constant Index,” has anything resembling a lead vocal, and even then it remains hazy, drifting in and out of focus without a full-bodied melody ever breaking through completely, more recalling Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser than Kate Bush. In other places, like “Strength in Free Spaces,” the voice is simply another instrument, sounding like a synthesizer as it floats in and out of the mix, competing with rhythm tracks and arpeggiators as they repeat themselves into infinity across each song’s expansive runtime.
And there’s nothing wrong with this, really, but it is completely incongruous with what one might have expected and considerably less idiosyncratic. “Head” builds to a cacophonous climax over the course of five and a half minutes before a handful of different noises swell at its densest point, and the EP’s title track progresses slowly, gradually revealing a handful of gorgeous, massive synthesizer drones reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s work on Returnal (2010) in its final minutes, with Halo’s vocals finally emerging from the back of the mix for only a few seconds, a glimpse that fades as quickly as it appears. Whereas the songs on King Felix were about refusing to stay in one place, with new instruments and melodies constantly dropping and changing over the course of each song’s mix, these songs are very much about the opposite experience, giving time over to repetition and making space for change instead of forcing it suddenly.
Hour Logic is still a surprise, and potentially easily viewed as a misstep, given that it feels like a complete and total shift in direction. However, this music demonstrates that her palette is ever-expanding and that she is willing to take relatively large risks as she develops as a musician. Furthermore, the EP recalibrates expectations for the future, as it includes clear evidence that the path she’ll be taking is hers and hers alone, with no guarantees about where she’ll be taking us next—or how many of us she’ll be actively trying to make happy along the way. For the most part, this is probably a good thing.