Michigan-born electronic composer Laurel Halo’s fifth album is at once her most disorienting and most compelling listen.
Having spent the best part of her adult years pursuing a nomadic way of life, leaving her home in Ann Arbor for New York, Berlin and now residing in Los Angeles with periods spent across the globe inbetween, the concept of home and belonging somewhere was beginning to feel somewhat alien to Laurel Halo.
Noting how transient her life was seemingly becoming and how much of an impact it was seemingly having on her work and relationships, she chose to confront the feelings she faced in the form of an album, and embraced the exploratory themes by naming it Atlas.
Seemingly drawing from the Japanese concept of ‘mono no aware’ – the idea that nothing is permanent and allowing an inner pathos to evoke sadness or sentimentality for the past – the record is a trip through the feelings Halo has felt on her travels; expressing a yearning for somewhere to feel a sense of belonging.
It also takes a journey through her past explorations in different genres, subtly returning to elements of the experimental pop, jazz and neo-classical works she has toyed with in the past by juxtaposing electronic swells with the organic orchestral elements. The marriage of the droning strings and tentative piano playing on the opening tracks ‘Abandon’ and ‘Naked to the Light’ act as a reminder that the world can be disorienting, especially at times when you feel lost.
As the album progresses, there is further wrestling with internalised emotions and frustration before the shift towards more soothing palettes. ‘Late Night Drive’ takes the shape of its namesake; an opportunity to reflect and become increasingly aware of one’s surroundings, while the climactic string section of ‘Sick Eros’ feels as though lifted from a film score at the point where the protagonist comes to a sudden realisation.
The plaintive ‘Belleville’ appears to stand out as one of two pivotal points in the record’s narrative. An impressionist piece which serves as the only song where human voices interact with one another, Halo and guest vocalist Coby Sey don’t need to communicate in words as the music alone manages to be expressive enough to convey thoughts and feelings. The absence of lyrics across the record highlights how lonely the world can be, and the haunting vocals here on ‘Belleville’ suggest a desire to articulate the thoughts from earlier in the record with someone else without knowing how.
The other significant moment on the record is its title track, ‘Atlas’, which appears to collate all of the musical ideas from the record to create a reckoning of sorts, and an acceptance of the varied nature of life. Spaces of silence begin to emerge more in the music, and it appears to be more comfortable in moments of solitude, but the dramatic moments appear to have more comfort in them.
Halo in the past has spoken of her love of music that is tactile, and you can truly feel everything in this record. Her experience of the environments she’s lived in and the emotions that they have brought with them directly inform the mood swings of Atlas, and it stands out as one of the boldest statements of her career to date. It’s both essential listening for those who are lost, and perfect for losing yourself within.