Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Laurel Halo – Jelly

Via Tomás, an experimental pop track and some controversy…


Tomás Gauna: Laurel Halo is known for using vocals in inventive ways that transcend the concepts of “pop music,” but her 2013 album Chance of Rain was an interesting yet completely instrumental take on Berlin ambient-techno. So it surprised me when the first single of her following record, Dust, not only had vocals but had them at the forefront of the poppiest song she’s done so far. Having said that, the production on “Jelly” remains experimental and unpredictable, befitting the track’s title. Klein and Lafawndah harmonize with Halo in odd ways, highlighting the lyrics that describe, in a lighthearted and almost humorous way, a friend’s bad attitude. While it is not representative of the rest of the music on Dust, it is still one of its highlights, and an excellent example of how the mix of experimental, electronic and pop music is as exciting as it always was.

Julian de Valliere: I think this gave me motion sickness.

Maxwell Cavaseno: Laurel Halo’s Quarantine and her instrumental works are an awkward fit. “Jelly” is drifting and confounding in a way that makes it fun to chase after, but it’s hard to sit down and get a proper feeling for unless settled enough to let the record crest alongside you. Any chance of that is a bit hampered by the fidgety leans into dancelike energy and percussion. You never ease into a natural ebb and flow, leaving the listener unable to settle in to try and understand Halo’s warped utterances.

Ryo Miyauchi: The message is awfully sincere: “you don’t meet my ideal standards of a friend!” Yet “Jelly” seems as though it stumbled upon such honesty by accident, its choppy lyrics presented like auto-complete poetry. Laurel Halo obscures it even further by swishing her synths around like mouthwash and shooting her voice up with helium. It’s as though her warning about a thief and drunkard can’t be just out there in plain sight.

Katherine St Asaph: Somewhere in here is a futuristic-R&B track, like a probably-better Kelela song after several dozen rounds of the Xerox bug. If nothing else, it’ll make very farcical background music for the friend-breakup described.

Nortey Dowuona: Limp, unimposing drums struggle underneath discordant synths, awkward bass, calming synth chords and Halo’s metallic, hollowed voice. Then a loop of voices interrupts, then the beginning resumes and the bongos come in, leaving a trail of pebbles through the mess of the song. Suddenly, another whirring synth appears with some more slick chords, and the bongo hops right back out, with piano dropping in the mix while everything drops and the chords remain. Then another discordant voice falls in while Halo’s voice drifts around. Then it stops.

Crystal Leww: One of the people in my music people group text chain is in her early 20s and works in dance music. A couple of days ago, we got into a discussion about Spotify’s “Women Producers” playlist, and she pointed out that it features much more experimental producers than any other dance music playlist. While I objected for the house and techno stuff, I will say that there is something less than ideal about the fact that a lot of “Women Producers” make weird stuff. I know a lot of people who are genuinely into Laurel Halo and like, bop to this or whatever. However, there is something harrowing about the fact that so many critically hailed women in dance music make the sonic equivalent of throwing bird sounds with a random drum pack into a blender and then hitting the pulse button on random intervals. 

Alfred Soto: Arch and amateurish is an unlikely combo.

Rebecca A. Gowns: You know, I’m usually not a fan of dissonance in music. My aversion feels a little childlike, but undeniable, much like my dislike of coffee — a bitter taste that can be enjoyable for many people in many contexts, but just a hint of it in anything makes me blanch. Laurel Halo’s use of dissonance here is multi-layered, and the result is a soundscape that draws you into the dark woods, deeper and deeper, whether you like it or not. Hypnotic in a strange, dissociative way, like finding myself at the bottom of a coffee cup without any recollection of drinking it.

Alex Clifton: This is the aural equivalent to that one Spongebob episode where Squidward ends up in an entirely white room where his words pile up around him and minimize. I guess this is the future, but I’m not sure I’m ready for it. 

Joshua Minsoo Kim: While album cut “Moontalk” would have been better-received–it’s more accessible and bears a strong resemblance to the ’80s Japanese new wave/pop that has become increasingly popular since the turn of the decade–“Jelly” is more emblematic of Laurel Halo’s approach to sound design on Dust and the role that her collaborators played. At its core, “Jelly” consists of layered drum patterns that can be appreciated both in isolation and as pieces in a tableau of creeping anxiety and shame. This assemblage of sound is different from the arresting ambient soundscapes that defined Quarantine, but it is similar to her dance-oriented tracks and the controlled cacophony that defines contributor Eli Keszler’s works. Klein and Lafawndah provide more depth and range to Halo’s own outré vocalizations, and Klein in particular is a perfect fit, considering her Tommy EP featured James Blake-isms stretched to their turbulent extreme. In an interview with Fader, Halo explained that “Jelly” involves “the process of dismantling and defusing negative voices.” This is crucial, as it renders Halo’s exclamation of “You don’t meet my ideal standards for a friend!” as an incessant voice of self-condemnation, confirmed by the line’s unsettling vocal processing and the lyrics’ recurring references to mirrors. As the song progresses, there’s a sense of serenity obtained from the shimmering keys, and it’s as if Halo has come to an acceptance of never reaching perfection. She reconciles that these voices of disapproval–from others and herself–are also just that. They don’t define who she is, or who she’s capable of being.

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6 Responses to “Laurel Halo – Jelly”

  1. omg Alex

  2. My favorite thing about us blurbing this is that it’s all very much in line with what some have said about Jessy Lanza’s It Means I Love You. Like, Crystal’s blurb + the comments from Maxwell and Tomás from there match up with everything here. I’m very much into music writing as a vehicle for better understanding people (their tastes and otherwise) so even though I’m gonna have to tussle with Maxwell and Crystal about this song, I very much love that they wrote what they did.

    Anyways, thanks Tomás for suggesting this! It’s a great song AND it gives me an excuse to mention that Laurel Halo’s Holoday sampled Rainbow’s To Me and it was the first time I heard a Western artist sample K-pop.

  3. I mean, my take is somewhat radically different, probably because I can never really enjoy to songs with lyrics like “you don’t meet my ideal standards for a friend.” cuts way too close to home for me.

  4. (that said, there are a lot of female producers who do more straight-ahead stuff; Sophie Rimheden’s one of my favorites, I mention her here a lot)

  5. Alex is 100% on point and, extrapolating, the future feels like my childhood, which is to say: LOVE.

  6. I… have many thoughts but the main one is:

    why are all the songs I suggest so divisive :(