Available on: Friends of Friends LP
Shlohmo is the alias of Henry Laufer, a 21-year old beatmaker who is one of the founders of the Wedidit collective, another branch of L.A.’s burgeoning Low End scene “who make shit and want to give you the shit we make”. Building on the buzz around last year’s Shlomoshun Deluxe mini-album and edits of Burial, Gucci Mane and Kelis, Shlohmo has delivered a deep and rewarding debut album.
The 14 tracks of Bad Vibes (13 if you don’t buy vinyl) explore downtempo, often melancholic territory at the junction of abstract hip-hop, dubstep, shoegaze and funky psychedelic rock. Soundwise, it’s a very coherent album: tracks flow into each other naturally, creating a sense of being on a musical journey but without the theoretical baggage of “imaginary soundtracks” or other such concepts. Yes, it’s a trip, but one of you can take in your own way.
The album kicks off with ‘Big Feelings’, a melange of nature sounds, Middle Eastern vocals, distortion and off-kilter beats. The vocal sample brings to mind the fourth-world voyages of Holger Czukay or DJ Cam, filtered through an appreciation of Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing. ‘Places’ has already been released as a single, and there are two versions here (a ‘Shlohmo Remix’ of the track closes out the vinyl version of Bad Vibes). Either way, it’s a beautiful track – the original shuffles a hand of tape hiss, wordless sweet ’70s soul balladry, modern funk synths and head-nodding beats like some hip young kid shredding scenes from Shaft. The remix starts off more like the lo-fi outsider experimentation of A Grave with No Name or Kramer, until the most delicious oriental synth line starts picking its way through the debris.
One of the most surprising, yet enjoyable things about this album is the sheer variety of influences and resemblances in the music: from Ike Hayes to Keith Hudson, Tokimonsta to Sleepy Sun, it’s a far richer and more rewarding tapestry that most comparable hip-hop records. ‘It Was Whatever’, for instance, ventures over similar terrain to Ultramarine on their joyous canoe trip across the States, Every Man and Woman is a Star, whilst ‘Parties’ takes the social angst of a misfit kid and turns it into a bittersweet instrumental, built on what sounds like a faux-Malian field recording, and reaching a peak of mouth organ-led melancholia before being led home by beats stumbling into oblivion.
There are no real weak spots on the album, but certain tracks do stand out as being that little bit better than the rest. ‘Just Us’ starts off like rinky-dink Korean answer phone music, adds a vocal line straight out of the Porcelain Raft playbook, lets the beat loose and bathes the whole thing in reverb before repeating with a twist. ‘Sink’ is built around plangent lo-fi guitar loops with just the merest smudge of rhythm: it’s barely hip-hop at all at first, until a loping drum pattern and pure wave synthesis overwhelm you with emotion.
Best of all are ‘Get Out’ and ‘Your Stupid Face’, a pair of linked tracks that build over a combined nine minutes. Starting with layers of falsetto and ominous percussive noises, ‘Get Out’ adds fuzztone bass and harmonica as the track builds and swells like something from a Mountain or Mandrill album. The Fender bass gets even dirtier and nastier with the transition to ‘Your Stupid Face’, where the darkness of Black Sabbath meets the majestic sadness of Eddie Hazel. When the beat drops midway through the track, it’s truly an awesome thing – heavy, heavy music.
All in all, Bad Vibes is a great debut album, with a potential appeal far beyond the L.A. beat scene that spawned it.