Following several releases of moody experimental techno, including 2013 full-length Chance of Rain and 2015 double-EP In Situ (issued by Honest Jon's), shapeshifting producer Laurel Halo returned to vocal-based works (as well as her previous home, Hyperdub) with 2017 album Dust.
In some ways, the recording seems like a sequel (or maybe a sibling or cousin) to Quarantine, her vocal-heavy 2012 debut full-length which received mountains of critical acclaim but was nevertheless often referred to as "difficult" or "divisive." Dust is a further abstraction of the art-pop inclinations of Quarantine, placing a bit more focus on beats, although the rhythms constantly shift and mutate.
Dust is easily the richest, most labyrinthine Halo release yet, utterly stuffed with sonic details, as she follows her impulses down obscure crevices inside her mind.
Her sonic vision is realized thanks to several guest musicians and vocalists; most prominently, Eli Keszler supplies his rapid, fluttering percussion throughout the album.
Abstract R&B singers Klein and Lafawndah mirror Halo's thoughts on a few tracks (particularly the hallucinogenic standout "Jelly"), and Nigerian-British designer/writer Michael Salu is given "Who Won?" all to himself in order to express his poetic concerns over dusky saxophone courtesy of Diamond Terrifier and fluid Wurlitzer keyboards played by Craig Clouse of Shit & Shine.
The album's most approachable tracks meld warped New York house chords with jittery beats and playful vocals.
Halo describes Dust as her happiest album, and there is certainly a sense of joy radiating through songs like the mischievous "Moontalk," which contains samples of laughter and dial tones as well as Japanese lyrics.
Other tracks on the album are less propelled by rhythm, floating weightlessly but often met by unpredictable shards of detuned instruments or manipulated vocals.
Dust is very disorienting and not always easy to grasp hold of, but it never comes close to sounding like anything else, and its best moments are highly compelling.