“We are a MULTI-COLOURED PUDDING! And a dance-sinawi-pop-trio from London.” That’s their elevator pitch, and they’re not about to offer up anything more illuminating, nor could they. Halo Halo’s ultra-cosmopolitan nature conforms to the anti-auspices of leader and multi-band minstrel Rachel Horwood. Her parents having emigrated from the Philippines, “halo-halo” refers to a garish Filipino dessert of assorted fruits and legumes, and, translating from Tagalog as “mix-mix,” it’s a phrase which represents twice over the unmoored nature of Halo Halo’s musical mixups. Their first full-length, the self-titled Halo Halo, unfolds as a rollicking, no-holds-barred multimedia scuffle. Between the crop-circle otherworldliness and crudely psychedelic groove of “Is It Shiny?,” the polyrhythmic 80s New Wave “Want 2 B,” and the sweltering-punk-slash-pseudo-kletzmer “Sunshine Kim,” the adjectives certainly start to pile up. Suffice it to say that no sound world is off limits as long as they can tack it to a steady click and keep jamming.
Which pretty much describes their composition process. The three young Londoners of Halo Halo play their instruments and voices like sound samples, hanging short melodic repetitions off of a fundamental rhythmic ostinato. Add in frequent drones and odd instrumentation and the result might sound strange to Western ears used to big beats and guitars strumming progressive harmonies. Occasionally it feels like ethnic tourism, whether it’s the irreverent polka take on Amerindian dance music (“Eagle”) or the pure-mutt “Djeddjehutyiuefankh,” which marries a wan electric banjo with shimmering Gamelan-esque bells and grumbling dijeredoo effects. Bandmate Gill Partington offers her take:
We didn’t consciously decide to try and sound a particular way or play in a particular style. It just comes out like that. One reason is that Jack and Rachel’s vocal harmonies are big part of our sound – sometimes they work as an extra instrument. But also maybe we sound distinctive because of Rachel’s banjo, which sounds quite different to a guitar. It isn’t tuned like a guitar, and has to be played in a different way, so it produces different kinds of melody. Another thing is that we are all drummers, so we all play in a way that is quite rhythmical, too.
Those craving meaningful lyrics need not apply. “I find writing lyrics the hardest thing, we’re all drummers but none of us are poets,” says drummer Jack Barraclough. So the album’s lyrical prowess lays pretty flat, with an obscure cultural reference here or there—”Taro Taro Taro” employs an old Japanese tale of a time traveling fisherman and “Djeddjehutyiuefankh” references the eponymous Egyptian mummy found with its heart mysteriously missing—but even in the most dramatic musical passages, like the ominous ritualism of “Comet,” any particularly profound message fails to emerge. In this wild romp of a record, the Halo Halo trinity have proven themselves sharp and daring, but while they dance around genre pointing their fingers and going “neener neener,” the youthful band has yet to transcend cheeky pop fun.