Album Review: Laurel Halo’s "Dust"

By Robert Masiello

One of the most beautiful, strange, and harrowing scenes in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” occurs at Club Silencio. It’s a dark, seedy theatre where the film’s protagonists witness a series of surreal performances. The evening’s host warns the crowd, “It is all an illusion,” adding mystique to the already feverish production. The finale is a thunderous rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” sung in Spanish by Rebekah Del Rio, which leaves the audience visibly shaken. In Club Silencio, nothing is what it seems, and nothing is without meaning.

In some ways, Laurel Halo’s new album “Dust” sounds like it could be an appropriate soundtrack to Club Silencio. It’s all moving parts, shifting shapes, and elusive voices that create a sound as sophisticated as it is unfathomable. Nothing is ever quite what it seems, as even the bright bounciness of a track like “Moontalk” is offset by a disconcerting queasiness. It’s fun, but not careless.

This sense of atmosphere isn’t necessarily new for Halo, and yet “Dust” still feels like a rebirth of sorts for the artist. Her voice makes an appearance for the first time since “Quarantine,” and she’s joined by collaborators such as Lafawndah and Michael Salu. It’s warmer than the icy throb of “Chance of Rain,” and perhaps more organic sounding than anything she’s released to date.

But the earthiness is somewhat of a front. By confronting a listener with familiar sounding instruments, Halo manipulates our perception of familiarity. With lyrics such as, “My eyes, back there in the mirror where I left them,” the human voice often disorients more than it comforts in these songs.

Back in Club Silencio, in one of the most famous lines of “Mulholland Drive,” the performing magician informs viewers, “No hay banda. There is no band.” He’s admitting that the cinematic music playing is synthetic, a pre-recording. But more importantly, he’s alluding to the illusion of our own universe, and perhaps hinting at dimensions yet undiscovered by humans.

By turns inscrutable and transcendent, “Dust” raises similar questions about the nature of our existence. Voices decorate the collages of sound, but not always Halo’s own. Everyday noises (such as a dropped call tone) appear in alien contexts, forcing a listener to re-examine what we accept as normal. The album’s penultimate track asks, “Did this ever happen?/Do you ever happen?”

Halo clearly had fun creating this music; it’s chaotic, energetic, and collaborative. But like a funhouse mirror, it just may distort your reality a bit.

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