Halou make music that is earthy and airy, organic and dreamy, songs that surround you then suddenly take wing and fly away. Rebecca Coseboom sings with a rarefied, alluring intimacy backed by deeply textured electronics, percussion and strings. Several pieces on their new release “Wholeness and Separation” are quiet, with sections that fade in and out like a shortwave radio. But they are quiet songs you’ll want to play loud to let the nuanced layers open up.
The sonic atmospheres are generated courtesy of band mates Ryan Coseboom, Rebecca’s husband, and a studio wiz nicknamed Count. Both are multi-instrumentalists who understand when to ditch the electronics in favor of live instruments. Cello, acoustic guitar, bass and drums sit comfortably beside all manner of electronic effects.
Production on “Wholeness and Separation” is impeccable. Crystalline electronic treatments don’t compete with the sonic space of other instruments or with Rebecca’s voice, which floats beautifully above washes of sound.
Halou’s production chops are well honed. Count has produced or remixed the likes of John Cale and No Doubt. Halou’s remix of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” hit number one on the Billboard club chart, and they have been solicited for soundtrack work, already appearing on two feature films.
How do they describe their music? “Poorly,” jokes Ryan. Halou (pronounced “Halloo” like the foxhunter’s call) is often compared to Portishead or lumped in with trip-hop, a comparison Halou takes issue with. Rebecca does share some of Beth Gibbons’ melodic cadence, and her songs have a wistfulness about them, but her lyrics don’t dwell in melancholia and Halou uses no breakbeats.
Above all these are songs, not just grooves with vocals. As much as they rely on electronics and savvy production, most every song on “Wholeness and Separation” could be done with an acoustic four-piece combo. Try that with Tricky.
Rebecca uses evocative imagery of fruit, birds and honey in metaphors for relationships, where she struggles to balance grace and acceptance, passion and control, wholeness and separation. There is a fragile happiness in her words, as in “Today,” where she sings “Today I feel like dancing / I never feel like dancing... My entire soul is ringing.” But it rings with the pain of fleeting joy and niggling discontent, waiting for the shoe to drop. “Every silver lining has a cloud,” she laments.
Her voice is never more mesmerizing than on “Tubefed.” Backed by hypnotic hand percussion she coyly declares, “We appeal to your basic nature, your basic nature, don’t we?” The words swirl with an intimate shimmer, as though sung near a slowly turning fan. Upon reading the lyrics I learned that it’s seduction by the evening news that she’s singing about and not, to my mild disappointment, a personal message to me. “Chew up the harder facts for you / To make them easy to consume...” she whispers. No matter. It works splendidly as a political comment. “I’m pretty outspoken,” she says, “but as a woman it’s difficult to sing about [political opinions] without sounding whiney.” She subtly succeeds here in finding another way to get them across.
Halou pulls off their live sound with impressive accuracy with not a laptop in sight. “They crash,” says Count. Everything is painstakingly sampled into several elaborately configured keyboards, which are also triggered from the drums. When convenient, they’ll have a live cellist. Rebecca sings into not one but three different microphones, each with a different vocal effect. It throws the house sound guy sometimes, admits Ryan. “Staging is tough to pull off in general. We’re trying to bite off what large acts do, but on no budget,” adds Count.
As if that’s not enough, each live piece is synchronized to a film projected behind the band. “Visuals and our music are married together,” says Count, to the degree that they are considering releasing their next album only on DVD. They are also an elegant looking band. Rebecca typically performs in an evening gown, and has been known to bring along her own candles to decorate a venue. “We wanted to create a mood,” says Rebecca. “I feel like we would be perfect for a soundtrack for David Lynch.”
Halou is set to kick off their first major tour this fall, starting with Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival. Check their web site for tour updates.
“Wholeness and Separation” is available on the Vertebrae label. To learn more about Halou, visit: http://www.halou.com/.