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White Noise: Shlohmo – Bad Vibes

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Shlohmo – Bad Vibes

It Was Whatever

Just Us


This has been one of my most heavily anticipated albums of the year, so I fear I'm not going to do the best job of an objective review, but damnit I can try. Here Henry Laufer makes the leap from his experimental beat-project EPs to a widescreen debut album which as well as harbouring his unique acoustic beatscapes and distinctive wordless vocals shows a surprisingly varied range of influences across its length.

Laufer's music has always been the most laid back of his LA beatsmith brethren and the 13 tracks here continue the feeling with style. His coupling of the acoustic guitar and super-relaxed beats is a wonderful formula that really has legs. It Was Whatever has a lusciously melodic looped guitar line that shifts subtly across the course of the track, while his wordless vocals are so deep in the mix they're almost imperceptible. But the thing about these tracks is all these details are what make it work, the record hiss and bird sounds add to the effect more than you'd think, creating a warmth and a genuinely rich sound that so many electronic contemporaries lack. The breakdown halfway through the track into digital clicks is a fluid movement and the two phrases couple to a simple and relaxing whole towards the close. In Parties a taut bassline accompanies the usual fare to bring a tenser quality to the head-bobbing track, and in Just Us twinkling synths overlay a reverb-drenched vocal line and contrast beautifully.

The sequencing is great, with the mood charted carefully and a few lovely two-part tracks. The breathtakingly lush Places (already released on an EP earlier this year) slides into Anywhere But Here which evokes the same mood and includes a lovely low-key melody of some more digital synths. Even better is the one-two punch of Get Out and Your Stupid Face, the first an onimous affair of clicks and vocals that swells in grandeur and scope towards its close where it moves into the dark and dirty bassline of the second fluidly.

But for the most part, we already knew Shlohmo could do this. The lo-fi acoustic / electronic line that he treads along so delicately still works a treat, but thankfully his sound is given a bit of a workout elsewhere on the album. Sink begins with a looping guitar and some barely-there percussion, but slowly expands with a gorgeous Oriental melody and undefinable percussive noises, an ambient wash rising to drench the track in sudden and glorious emotion, evoking a longing that makes you ask if that emotive direction was always there. I Can't See You I'm Dead is a darker and denser affair, making headway for the most surprising track on the album, the aptly titled Trapped In a Burning House, which brings an intensity to Shlohmo's music unheard since early tracks like Hotboxing the Cockpit. A blacker-than-black bass crunch swells in true witch house style exuding malicious intent and terror, and I was really impressed by just how right Laufer got it in trying to evoke an emotion outside of a melancholy haze of weed smoke.

Best of all, this is an unerringly consistent listen, and barely any of these tracks are unremarkable. This is especially a surprise for a debut album, in which a few missteps are to be expected. Far from it, here Shlohmo has crafted one of the most gorgeously textured and wonderfully relaxed albums this year, and probably the best release so far from any artists on the LA side of things. All I can say is that this is a great job that will open up as a detailed and skilled composition on listen after listen, so get going.


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