HTMLflowers: Chrome Halo

- HTMLflowers is Melbourne-based rapper, producer, artist and comic-book illustrator Grant Gronewold. Under the HTMLflowers moniker he has performed as part of hip-hop duo Lossless with singer Oscar Key Sung, published comic books and produced a slew of singles and collaborations. Chrome Halo is HTMLflowers most significant output to date, and it cuts to the emotional heart of his work. Gronewold has cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness which affects his quality of life in a multitude of ways and leads him to identify as disabled. The extent to which this informs his work, particularly on Chrome Halo, cannot be understated.

Gronewold is at his most aggressive from the outset. On Cicada, God On My Hitlist and Choke Chain he details his fluctuating anger and fragility. Gronewold’s vocals are delivered with exhausted tenacity, imparting the bitterness of his repeated and difficult experiences with his illness and treatment under the healthcare system. Hospital room ambience is transformed into groaning and sharp beeping rhythms. Gronewold’s production is most prominent on these tracks: the refined combination of samples, trap beats, layered synths and heavy bass adds to the impression left by his vocals, that of the “unhealthy” human body being subjugated by an uncaring, mechanical system.

The album branches out here, the aggressive beats and vocal hooks are pulled back and more room is given to featuring artists and Gronewold’s own singing, as well as some gentler instrumentals. Frost Rose paces along more casually with Gromwald, Banoffee and Marcus Whale offering accounts of tumultuous relationships. The album’s title track, also featuring Banoffee, returns more gently to the record’s focus on the personal, landing somewhere between the aggression of songs like Choke Chain and the hook laden sadness of Frost Rose. Non-Compliant Patient is a well-timed -albeit lengthy- intermission carried by a subdued autotuned vocal from Gronewold.

Sleep Good and Friends Like That provide accounts of love, friendships and unrequited romance through the bleak lens of Grant’s illness. Gronewold details his life of poverty, growing up in America and coming to Australia with a single mother on Running On Low and Best Mom. Chrome Halo was already pretty tough going, but with these tracks Gronewold invites you into the crushing, emotional core of the album. Closer No Hospice meanders out in a downtempo affair, prominently featuring a repeated sample of a woman mournfully saying “I have no choice” - a striking, final reminder of the sucking despair that faces Gronewold and everyone else trapped in the system of debt and healthcare.

The explicitly personal subject matter makes for a challenging album but the emotional payoff when committing to listening is powerful. It is deeply sad, but also filled with moments of remarkable joy and humor. Chrome Halo feels deliberately balanced between control and rushes of cathartic emotion, and while this this leaves some tracks feeling a little understated, it largely works in the album’s favour. At a time when artists with disabilities are still largely ignored, this record is a remarkable accomplishment, especially for a young artist. Chrome Halo demands your consideration.

- Jaden Gallagher.

Album Details

Album Title: Chrome Halo
Artist: HTMLflowers
Record Label: (Wondercore Island)