Hailing from Tallinn, Estonia laurel2’s latest release in kasutu is a mellowed out, immersive experience. Blending traditional elements of Trip-Hop with Ambient texturing and concepts of other Electronica, kasutu takes the listener on an experimental journey of sound in a contemporized nostalgia trip.
Released: February 24, 2023
Written by: Aaron Michael Kobes
The transitional period between millennials saw an outgrowth of new and emerging genres that were, at the time, fresh and exciting. With more affordable options in home-based electronics coupled with both a growing open mindedness in blending genres, and increasingly reliable connectivity and music sharing options (both legal, and illegal). This then created a verdant opportunity for rapid expansions of a scene, which previously had the painstaking task of a more analog version of “word of mouth” via things like limited run Zines, distro imports at indie record shops and on and on. One such genre that had its own verdant growth, and is seeing somewhat of a resurgence, reminiscing in all things nineties, is the Trip-Hop genre, making its initial appearance in Bristol of the United Kingdom; often fusing elements of Jazz, heavy sampling of either portions of music or spoken word, with a heavy emphasis on the down tempo atmosphere of melancholy or sonic noir. Sitting somewhere in the late- Nineties to mid-Aughts in a nostalgia driven Trip-Hop experience is laurel2’s latest, katsu. This Estonian based outfit brings familiar and comfortably hypnotic beats into the present day with an added steeping of experimentation, that proves the genre’s longevity and relevance within the current music sphere, while transitioning it into the contemporary with an added experimentation.
Laurel2 starts kasutu off in mellow, traditionalist Trip-Hop fashion with klaudia a sedate, bass driven track that recalls hallmarks of the genre. There are moments of mild introspection, and sludgy percussive work accompanied by what feels like an acid-ladened cymbal. This is all a foggy/ dreamy haze, reminiscent of the album’s beautifully haunting yet somehow serene cover art, that is then turned mesmerizing halfway through the track as the sludginess gives way to a crisp and refined beat. There is additionally an Ambient/meditative atmosphere that starts to creep in around the crisp edges, which becomes further explored in the following track, deserteerumine. While still taking bass-driven components klaudia, deserteerumine begins the subversion of the genre into its more contemporary status; with its off-kilter bass with waxing and waning intensity that makes it feel more like an erratic heartbeat of a thing dying, or coming back to life. Running counterpoint to that are the rest of the components of the track, the echoey reverb of fading synths, the introduction of brighter notes layered atop, and a yawning notes that trace the heartbeats as if they were some sort of EKG readout.. The end result is a surprisingly rich development of sound with a nuanced layering that seems near counterintuitive, creating a feeling of “nothing really happening” while, in fact, it is quite the opposite.
Laurel2 goes on to create an entirely immersive experience throughout the rest of kasutu, with seamless transitions between tracks, and preemptive tapering of the tracks that glide smoothly in conjunction with the tracks own inner workings. The effort extends into the meat of the tracks themselves, as the experimentation continues, further blending Ambient and Trip-Hop, and altering key concepts to the genre itself. A perfect example is the track, j22kylm featuring fellow Tallinn native OUMEEN, wherein there is a resurfacing of the sludgy musical sampling as seen in Claudia, but with the introduction of the spoken word that has been turned into a minimalist affair to the point of the listener risking loss of notice if they aren’t paying attention. This in and of itself is a brilliant move by laurel2 in my opinion, as the chosen spoken word tracking creates something akin to an “Om” mantra that cleverly moves in and out of the bass work so as to merge and emerge randomly. There is also the subverted element of the sampling, which is most typically Jazz- or something genre-adjacent, but laurel2 has instead opted for the Post Punk workings of OUMEEN and ported within the Trip-Hop genre in a meaningful translation.
The immersion continues into a dream-like state in the final tracks of the record. What start out as a foggy and nostalgic trip in the familiar, now veers into the deeply contemplative and, what feels like the esoteric. With tracks like pealeolematu and dagö düün, there is more of a reliance on a creation and steeping in Ambience through generated openness within the track, rather than tightly packing on the layers; each note gets its contemplative space. Moving into the final laurel2 created track of the record, klistallid, there is the resurgence in a pair of, what I would call sub-standard Trip-Hop beats, in that the feel more Electronic, or Techno derived than anything, but laurel2 keeps them contained within their own respective pockets-letting each out in turn whilst suspended in an insulating layer of atmosphere. This is a fitting end for the artists portion of the record in that it portends a mastery in the overarching Electronica genre. The near whimsical ease that is taken in playing with seemingly disparate elements of vastly different sub genres and blending them into a comprehensive format is no small task and yet laurel2 makes it sound effortless; as if it is nothing more than a vacuous conjuration of smoke and fog to be moved about by a stiff breeze or manipulated in fan work on a whims. Yet, anyone with a working appreciation of the respective genres mentioned, or music in general can easily pick up on such an obvious display of talent.
Be righteous by listening to Laurel2 on Bandcamp.