Laurel Halo’s last album, ‘Quarantine’, was a one of most distinctive releases of 2012, with hallmarks of propulsively strange melodies, strident vocals locked in skin-tight harmony and burbling blissful synths that led you somewhere between Björk and Aphex Twin. Throw in obliquely coruscating lyrics about loss and paranoia and it was the kind of delicious record that kept on offering up surprises, paradoxes and intense excitement. More than anything, though, it reminded the cynical listener that amid dance music’s current obsession with its own short history, there is still something genuinely forward-thinking and new to be consumed.

Perhaps that sense of exploration and neophilia goes some way to explaining how Halo has decided to approach the follow-up to her debut: while many of that album’s instinctive calling cards – thrilling disorientation, inky darkness, brooding claustrophobia – reveal themselves on ‘Chance of Rain’, Halo executes them in a totally different way to previously: the introspective rush is provided here by darting polyrhythms and the kind of aural texture that only gets more complex the closer you examine it. Percussive elements pop in and out of the mix with almost three-dimensional clarity, and ‘Quarantine’’s idiosyncratic vocals are nowhere to be found; in their place are two suites of hulking, testing but deeply rewarding techno underneath flourishes of classic jazz keyboards.

Indeed, the jazz flavouring that’s peppered a lot of Halo’s previous work has become a base ingredient and almost a stylistic tool on ‘Chance of Rain’ – while the huge, alien beats rain down, the innate humanness of nearly-familiar chords and progressions offer a welcome organic approachability and looseness among the colossal precision. The album is bookended, too, by short beatless Rhodes improvisations that serve to calm the nerves before and after the main events and, extending the jazz-as-respite theme, there’s also a half-way breather in the form of ‘Melt’, an ambient Melotron-and-clarinets interlude that could almost have come off a Miles Davis record.

But for all the melodic dilettantism, the real delights in ‘Chance of Rain’ are in the knotty, aggressive but deadly controlled electronic explorations into rhythm and sonics, which take the established building blocks of club music – four-to-the-floor kick, juddering bass and futurist synth – and repurpose them as something more foreign. Accordingly, ‘Oneiroi’ offers only snatches of familiar samba percussion and acid house keys in measures designed either to tantalise or seduce, and ‘Serendip’ starts by quoting LFO but ends with a wall of hiss and decaying swathes of harmonics.

In lesser hands, this dislocating approach and heads-down primordial throb could be either tedious or utterly impenetrable. However, Halo’s startlingly original knack for approachable composition shines through – while ‘Chance Of Rain’ is no party record, and constantly and densely intricate, it’s never intimidating. Instead, it’s an album at ease with its own oddness, and all the stronger for it.


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