Album Review: Shlohmo – Bad Vibes

If Brainfeeder is the famous young’un of Los Angeles’s beat scene family and Alpha Pup Records the accomplished eldest son, the city’s burgeoning Friends of Friends imprint is the low-key middle child poised for a breakout. Between boasting a stellar, though understated, card of signees that includes Groundislava and Mexicans with Guns and being named August 2010’s Label of the Month by Resident Advisor–one of the most respected voices in electronic music–Friends of Friends is finally beginning to get its due credit. And all that goes without mentioning Shlohmo (AKA Henry Laufer), one of electronic music’s brightest rising stars. Even though he just celebrated his 21st birthday this year, you can follow his musical journey from the Boards of Canada-inspired found-soundscapes of Shlo-Fi to Shlomoshun‘s banging beats (he likes puns, can you tell?), through the David Gilmour-esque ambiance of his most recent EP, Places.

Though Bad Vibes seems to take some of its cues from the otherworldly atmospherics of Matthewdavid to Baths’ layered beats and falsetto coos, it’s hardly derivative, as Laufer channels his previous efforts along with the best work of his contemporaries to create an exceptionally singular record. Most noticeably, Bad Vibes is marked by the heavy use of layered guitars, which swirl and slide about, creating a deep, otherworldly ambiance, not unlike the last thing we heard from Boards of Canada, 2005’s The Campfire Headphase. Laufer also has a knack for twisting and turning nostalgic phrases, like the wistful vocal line of “Just Us”. Over the course of the song, he develops and layers gauzy samples atop one another until the inevitable avalanche that comes at song’s end.

The emotional heaviness of Bad Vibes is impossible to prepare for. Shlohmo’s live sets usually consist of bass-heavy bangers and tons of cooking music, a far cry from the haunting Oriental drone that imbues “Big Feelings”, Bad Vibes‘ sullen opener. The record is one of the densest, loneliest full-lengths in recent memory, especially in the “instrumental hip-hop” category it’s (unfortunately) most likely to be lumped into. Bad Vibes’ second half, which features such cheerless track titles as “I Can’t See You I’m Dead” and “Trapped in a Burning House”, veers surprisingly close to the sprawling territory inhabited by ever-prolific sonic architect Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never. Still, Laufer’s mercurial skill as a producer is evident here, as he forges a very comfortable niche of his own in Los Angeles’s teeming beat scene, weaving as evocative an album as any this year, without hardly a discernible lyric.

Essential tracks: “Just Us”, “Big Feelings”, and “Trapped in a Burning House”


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