Laurel Halo – ‘Raw Silk Uncut Wood’ review

The sonic adventurer returns to confound once more with this sparse, meditative instrumental experiment

Laurel Halo, the acclaimed American producer and DJ now based in Berlin, comes across in interviews as likeable, funny and engaged, but you could be forgiven for feeling that her experimental approach to music is rather more highfalutin. After a couple of EPs that twisted the Detroit techno sound into ambient, muted contortions more likely to make you scratch your chin than move your feet, she turned in a series of comparatively accessible albums that nevertheless offer few access points.

Halo’s world is characterised submerged beats, glimpses of vocal and swathes of washed-out synth. You won’t hear them chanting 2015’s ‘Nebenwirkungen’ on the terraces. This approach culminated in last year’s album ‘Dust’, a masterful blend of ambient electronica, alt-pop and experimentation that defies genre (whatever you call that cackle that skitters over the bouncing, tribal percussion of ‘Moontalk’, it sounds amazing every time). Here, then, she strips back her approach with the minimalist, six-track ‘mini-album’ ‘Raw Silk Uncut Wood’.

If ‘Dust’ was Halo’s sprawling, lush, wildly diverse ‘Life of Pablo’, then the sparse, introverted ‘Raw Silk Uncut Wood’ is her ‘ye’, the sound of an artist regrouping to test new boundaries before she forges ahead once again.

The record opens with the 10-minute (precisely) title track, a mournful keyboard procession that marches heavily on two notes even as bird chirp in the background. Rather than bloom into a fuller bodied texture in its finale, as the track appears to promise to, Halo has it contract further still into an ominous, skeletal soundscape. She grew up listening to her parents’ jazz records, and though she has dismissed their influence on her music, on a couple of tracks here – ‘Mercury’ and Outside’ – she takes snatches of jazz piano and explores the potential of individual notes, playing them over and over again, fast and then slow, as metallic sounds whir with menace in the background. ‘Supine’ is a shimmering ambient piece – the track unspools like spider silk – while album closer Nabarkeit sounds as epic as anything Halo has done.

Yet it is ‘The Sick Mind’ that forms the lithe, unsettling centrepiece of ‘Raw Silk Uncut Wood’. This is the score to a horror movie yet to be written; notes plucked from piano keys scurry back and forth while eerie, echoing sound effects percolate in the background. There’s no vocal on the record: having defined her trademark sound on ‘Dust’, Halo has set out to confound one more – perhaps indicating that her music’s as playful as her persona after all.