Blending acoustic sketches with dense ambience, Laurel Halo’s ‘Atlas’ is tamed chaos, a three-year exploration of sound and nostalgia. Each track is a dense collage, merging into a greater collage in the album’s context, with piano and strings evoking familiarity alongside thick soundscapes. The album is Halo’s first on her new imprint, Awe, and contrasts her other work with an otherworldly sound.
Perhaps it’s cliche to reference him in an ambient review, but in this case it has to be done: fans of Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’ would be right at home here, though Halo has clearly delineated her own narrative between tracks. Opener ‘Abandon’ recklessly sprints through a tape hiss, pierced through by the memory of instrumentation, followed by the contrasting ‘Naked to the Light’, a sensitive swirl of strings. Rather than blend into the background, ‘Atlas’ begs to be listened to; interpreted. Tracks don’t merge together here, becoming instead short stories, or scenes in sequence.
Tying concrete meaning to an album mostly lacking vocals is difficult, but Halo chapters the album out beautifully, with the respite of ‘Sweat, Tears or the Sea’ standing out as a dream among the dreams, and the climax at the title track, triumphant and radiant. Yet reality sinks in with ‘Earthbound’, hitting us with spikes of anxiety through cold saxophone; ‘Belleville’ is another highlight, and perhaps the most Eno-esque with its soft melting keys and reverb.
As cinematic as it is mysterious, Laurel Halo’s ‘Atlas’ is a journey that rewards repeated listens in the same way an art house film rewards a rewatch. ‘Atlas’ is an inviting odyssey, allowing the listener to appreciate the subtle textures and juxtaposition between acoustic and digital sound. A thoroughly worthwhile listen for ambient fans that value a narrative.
Words: Jack Oxford