On her new mini album for French indie label Latency, American producer Laurel Halo has altered her sound once again, from the blissful and euphoric moments from her 2017 record, Dust, to sounds that are minimalistic and give room for contemplation. Where Dust managed to be a mix of art-pop with experimental ambient textures, Raw Silk Uncut Wood goes for something more pensive. With the help of percussionist Eli Keszler and London-based composer and frequent Radiohead collaborator, Oliver Coates, the trio craft a sonic aesthetic that runs the gamut between ambient music, electro-acoustic, and even some left field, avant-garde jazz.
Compositionally, the songs flow seamlessly into one another, while remaining sparse and minimalistic at one look, while going into experimental territory at the next. These moments are compounded by the amount of density within the compositions themselves.
A lot of these tracks feel cinematic in nature, which is not surprising when you consider that part of the inspiration for Raw Silk came from the time Halo had spent orchestrating the score for a documentary on the Dutch studio, Metahaven. Between this artistic endeavor and the reading up on the Ursula Le Guin’s translation of the ancient Tao Te Ching text by Lao Tzu(where the record’s title comes from), one can easily decipher that Halo was looking to try something that was more obtuse with this record.
Each track, despite having textures that are meditative in nature, feels expansive without shifting from this core concept of minimalism. “Nahbarkeit”, the last cut on the album, shows this point tenfold. These songs remain sequential without ever turning into something hackneyed or forgettable for the most part. The album is very reminiscent of its cover, one that is unassuming at first glance, yet abstract and somewhat elusive among deeper inspection. These minimalistic moments is where Halo’s experimental approach truly shines but sometimes can feel a little tonally inconsistent when they clash with the album’s more avant-garde moments.
The title track and the ending cut are some of the best pieces of music in Halo’s entire discography. These two tracks are simply immaculate with the former having these winding sonic passages accompanied by the leading organ melody along with the synthesizer lead and Coates’ elegant cello work. This track is the pure definition of ethereal with the feeling of weightlessness enveloping you as it plays out all the while evoking a sense of comfort. It’s nothing short of incredible. If possible, listen to this track with decent headphones and it will be a truly mesmerizing listening experience.
The latter track, “Nahbarkeit”, which is German for “approachability”, feels triumphant with the ethereal tones completely washing out Keszler’s percussion in a wave of other-worldly euphoria. The synths are absolutely gorgeous on this track, especially with the instrumentation swelling up and then slowly subsiding. It truly feels as if this would be the soundtrack to the afterlife.
Instrumentally, Raw Silk is more organic than another Laurel Halo to date, which lends itself to a unique emotional response to that of her previous work. While the opener and closer are excellent examples of how the Halo and company are able to craft and that is purely meditative, the middle of the record is where the avant-garde jazz comes into play as typical song structures and melodies are virtually non-existent. This approach works for some of the tracks on the album, with “Mercury” and “Supine”, where the songs still have a semblance of a structure. Whereas with “The Sick Mind” and “Quietude”, all of that is pushed to the wayside.
“The Sick Mind” and “Quietude” is where the album is at its most abstract and contain these extremely repetitive chord progressions that move at a breakneck pace. These tracks generally showcase one aspect of the trio’s instrumental chops as whether it be the washed out synths or the jittering organs. “The Sick Mind” in particular feels very unsettling and manic throughout its runtime the organ in the background is constantly clashing with the sporadic synths. These two songs, in particular, are honestly pretty jarring and while they can be applauded for attempting something different, these songs dip a little too deep into the abstract. They feel aimless without any sense of direction.
Overall, Raw Silk Uncut Wood is notch into the win column for Halo as she continues to be one of the most forward-thinking producers working today. It’s not the most consistent release in her catalog, but one that is very rewarding for those willing to stick with through it’s more conceptual moments. While there is a lot to praise about the album, the middle of it feels extremely underwhelming in comparison to the title track and “Nahbarkeit”. The moods and tones that Halo, Coates, and Keszler create are cerebral in nature, and while they don’t always play out as intended, it still remains nonetheless impressive. As it stands currently, the album is enjoyable but doesn’t quite reach the high’s of the other albums in Halo’s discography.