South London chums Halo Halo, named after a Filipino dessert, have been fairly busy over the past three years. The three-piece spin weird-folk, imbued with traditional world music styles and punk - it's quite an eclectic mix. They've garnered success overseas with a handful of releases, performing in distant lands like Israel and South Korea; now, with the release of their eponymous debut LP (on which they've considerably upped their game in every aspect), they hope to imitate that level of success on home shores.
The album opens with the unpronounceable 'Djeddjehutyiuefankh' (they nicked the moniker from the name of an Egyptian mummy found without a heart), a jaunty, summer-laced bout of indie-pop. There's chilled banjo riffs and perky bass licks - it's pretty jovial, despite the macabre title – and the infectious yowls of Rachel Horwood (also of Trash Kit fame) and Jack Barraclough awkwardly scrape through the sonic undergrowth. It doesn't quite fit, but it's more endearing than agonising. On the following effort, 'Taro Taro Taro', the trio borrow post-punk bass from Bloc Party and a quaint quirk from Deerhoof. It's a wonderful rhythmic shambles. The track feels cosmopolitan: all the strange elements are meeting in one place for one purpose, not entirely slotting together, but getting to know one another nonetheless. If you're unable to decipher what the song is about, the gist is (here's an excerpt from the PR): "A time travelling fisherman lost to the waves for 300 years, taken from the early Japanese tale 'Urashima Taro'." Where do they find these song topics?
A lot of indie-pop or folk (not all, but a lot) tends to be very same-y or safe. Bands can be too scared to venture into the vast unknown for fear of lost record sales or alienating listeners. Clearly, Halo Halo don't give a monkeys about that - it seems like that exact nonchalance (as well as their desire to make music they enjoy first and foremost) has ensured that they have a devout following. They're seeking out untouched sounds and exploring foreign lands, doing a variety of things that acts with a chart-obsession would never dream of. Could you see Two Door Cinema Club tangling with Ifugao or Tiboli? Would Mumford & Sons dabble with heartless corpses or ancient Japanese legends? Of course they bloody well wouldn't. No other band would get away with it - largely because the gimmick has already been used - but as Halo Halo got there first, they have complete control and respect for their pushing of boundaries.
One downside of the experiments and genre-clashing is that while fascinating, they tend to be pretty jarring. 'Want 2 Be' is a sci-fi synthpop cut with discordant guitar riffs, odd polyrhthyms and tuneless vocals (or if there is a tune, it's not the same one as the rest of the song). Grating bagpipes - never pleasant - usher in 'Eagle'. There's just a few elements that while interesting to dissect and read about, don't translate well to recording; live, they're surely a riot/spectacle, but on disc, it's rarely easy-listening. Fans of Deerhoof's more obtuse moments will be happy.
Halo Halo is captivating. Not because it's particularly melodic or accessible or lyrically apt or emotionally wrought, but because the band are adept at sculpting narratives. That's ultimately what this record is: a noisy picturebook. They've cherrypicked stories from their imagination and from around the world and put an aural backdrop to them, keeping listeners happy by telling stories rather than engaging with hooks. In that sense, this is pure folk. Sort of. It's like the David Lynch of traditional folk. The album is engaging, authoritative and eccentric – it's not 'good' for any 'normal' reasons (don't expect to ever hear this on Radio 1), but for many other tacit factors, it's great.