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Dreaming Out Loud

[whitespace] Halou
All in the Family: Halou's Rebecca and Ryan Coseboom

Halou's electronic lullabies

By Simone Stein

I've always been the kind of histrionic girl who spends far too much time luxuriating in my own melancholy. That's why no matter how many interesting, innovative, funky, hardcore CDs come over the transom, the music I end up listening to again and again is the kind that stops my mind from pinwheeling and caresses the excruciating knots out of my agnostic version of a soul. Music I can listen to while curled fetally on the couch, the aural equivalent of a Jacuzzi. Music like Halou's debut album, We Only Love You. A soothing bath of crystalline strings, undulating reverb, skittering beats and sublime vocals, We Only Love You recalls Hooverphonic or those Massive Attack songs with Liz Fraser.

The album is finally available locally this month after all kinds of misery on the business end. The band's Washington, D.C.-based label, Bedazzled, recently lost its distribution, so Halou worried that the record wouldn't get into stores. "At first I felt like we were just going to be releasing a bird with no wings--go, be free! Fly! And it's not going to get anywhere," singer Rebecca Coseboom says. "Well, it might get somewhere, but it will hop the whole way." But smaller, independent distributors picked it up, and it's being sold through Ubiquity, the Bedazzled website (www.bedazzled.com) and indie record stores. Ironically, it might be easier to buy the disk in Munich than in Halou's hometown of Marin.

Consisting of Rebecca and husband Ryan Coseboom, Halou makes its dreamy electronic lullabies from samplers, synthesizers and Rebecca's clarion voice. The sounds are often muffled together, softening the edges and giving the songs a haunting underwater feel. Almost all are about love, but not just about romance. "Usually I hear the music Ryan writes, and I think, How does this song make me feel? When was the last time I felt that way?" Rebecca says.

That may be what makes these songs so powerful--unlike too many ambient abstractions, they're easy to relate to on both narrative and sensual levels. They're pop songs, full of empathy and catharsis. "Feeling This Is Like to Fall Awake," a track that's alternatively mournful and angrily cacophonic, is about kindness in the midst of devastating trauma.

"My mother died, and I was dating this man who dumped me on the night of my mother's funeral," Rebecca explains. "So that song is about that and about this girl who basically rescued me, because I couldn't tie my own shoes I was such a wreck. When I heard the music for that song, it was really that cataclysmic and that's what it brought up for me."

Contrasting with that song's fury and desperation is the album's final and most beautiful track, "I'll Carry You," a sympathetic, generous hymn to unconditional devotion with breathy vocals and sweeping strings. Listening to it, you don't so much relate to the words as fantasize that they're being sung to you. Which makes sense, since Rebecca wrote the song about her and Ryan's infant son. "I'll Carry You" is full of the nearly spiritual admiration most of us will never have bestowed on us again, if we ever did, which is why hearing it is both bittersweet and comforting.

"I wasn't going to mention that I had a baby, because you know, 'I live in Marin, and I've got a baby'--I didn't really want to sound like that. But I guess that's really who I am," Rebecca says. "This is my life. I can't be cool. I can't pull any of it off. The most romantic love song I've ever written is about my baby."

Seeing Rebecca--a pretty, pixie-faced woman with stop sign-red hair piled on her head with bobby pins in one of those casually perfect downtown up-dos I've always wished I could manage--it's easy to dispute her self-characterization.

What does seem true, though, is that her lack of pretension gives Halou's music its honesty. With their sophisticated soundscapes, most of the songs on We Only Love You would work in the most fashionable, jaded lounge. Unlike lots of other innovative electronic releases, though, the album sounds even more relevant outside the snotty aestheticism of a stylish club, when you're home alone and not feeling very cool at all.

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From the March 15, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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