9 / 10
There’s a certain point in the sleep cycle, the small time-frame between being awake and being asleep, where reality is stripped away in a state of “threshold consciousness”. For those with a healthy sleep routine this period is often brief, but for someone like myself it can often last hours. This state, called hypnagogia, is when the subject is most susceptible to phenomena like lucid dreaming, out-of-body experiences, and visual or auditory hallucinations.
Laurel Halo’s debut album for Hyperdub, a UK label traditionally known for releasing grimy dubstep albums by artists like Burial and Zomby, spends 40 minutes tracing a hypnogogic mesh around the brain while simultaneously side-stepping any expected direction. 2012’s electronic anti-thesis to Grimes’ Visions, Quarantine is minimal at it’s most extroverted moments; a byproduct of Halo’s past ambient work like 2011’s Antenna.
Her new home on Hyperdub isn’t a mistake either. Opener “Airsick” is driven by a thick, low bass beat punctuated by detuned piano sample. Halo’s voice on “Years” is pushed way up in the mix to the point where it begins overtaking any other instrument that attempts to butt into the song. The most ironically unconventional part about Quarantine is the unprocessed vocals; Halo experimented with reverb and effects on her voice before ultimately removing nearly every shred of vocal processing. Only on the Bjork-like “Carcass” does her voice crack and tremble in an almost robotic fashion. Discordant vocals become the counterpoint to Quarantine‘s melodic sub-bass and dub roots.
One of the strange forms of hypnagogia that I suffer from is a rare symptom called Exploding Head Syndrome. In a state of significant sleep deprivation, someone with EHS hears incredibly loud noises that seem to emanate from within the head. Last night, as I fell asleep with my headphones in playing Quarantine, the penultimate track “Nerve” jolted me out of a hypnagogic state with it’s unsettling electronic glitches. As my heart rate rose, Quarantine brought me back to sleep with the wistful closing ballad “Light + Space”. As a collection of songs, Quarantine succeeds in being ambitious and original. As an intellectual experience, it paints a remarkable picture of the world between reality and sleep.