Monday, May 28, 2012

laurel halo: quarantine (hyperdub)

“A voice means this,” writes Italo Calvino in his gorgeous and insightful short story A King Listens: “There is a living person, throat, chest, feelings, who sends into the air this voice, different from all other voices.” And this is Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar in a similar vein in A Voice and Nothing More: “The existence of a voice,” he argues, “always implies a subjectivity.” Clearly neither of them spent much time talking to Siri.

Funny how we persist in drawing a line between the voice and a real flesh-and-blood human subject. In a recent interview with FACT magazine, Laurel Halo had this to say on her thought process in relation to the vocals on new record Quarantine.
I started out with a ton of echo and reverb on [them], but it sounded supremely boring to me, so I was curious how they’d sound dry in the arrangements and got rid of most of the wetness. It ended up creating this amazing contrast effect, the vocals slicing through the mix, giving rhythmic contour to the tracks that was previously missing in delay haze. It was tempting to use autotune but I decided against it because there’s this brutal, sensual ugliness in the vocals uncorrected, and painfully human vocals made sense for this record.
Painfully human. A living person. Throat, chest, feelings. Sensual, ugly, uncorrected. I know what Halo’s getting at. The vocals on Quarantine certainly “slice through the mix.” There really is a presence and intimacy to them, particularly on a track like “Light and Space.” And they do stand out as a feature of the record compared with the decomposed and nearly voiceless dance tracks of 2011’s Hour Logic. But even still, I’m not buying it. It’s not the ‘humanity’ that makes this record, but precisely its problematization. To these ears, everything about Quarantine sounds positively posthuman. And moreover, that’s a crucial part of what makes it special...


Read the rest here. And if you're interested in a primer to Laurel Halo's music, check out the most recent edition of my radio show Far Side Virtual.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

kwes: meantime ep (warp)

This is Kwes’ first solo release since crossing over from Young Turks to Warp at the end of last year. I’m struggling to wrap my head around why they wanted him. Okay, so for a guy still in his mid-twenties, he keeps some pretty impressive company. Production work for Damon Albarn and Speech Debelle, official remixes for The xx, The Invisible, and the Portico Quartet, and a genuinely decent couple of mixtapes with Micachu, including original guest vocals from the likes of Ghostpoet and Dels. There’s even an endorsement from Matthew Herbert to the guy’s name.

But Kwes’ first solo outing, the No Need to Run EP, was both extremely meager, clocking in at only just over 10 minutes, and emphatically bland. “In and Out UK” was the only track worth returning to for a second listen. On Meantime, we get to hear Kwes’ vocals for the first time — quiet, subdued, sincere, yet somehow never quite soulful — but the effect is similarly underwhelming. Think SBTRKT, only wetter.