Review: Shlohmo – Laid Out

When Henry Laufer gifted a quiet corner of the internet his first mini-LP, Shlohmoshun, the Los Angeles young-blood was playing things instinctively. “I was 18 and 19… I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.” The aesthetic was raw, characterized by a stony glaze of found-sounds and crackled samples. Since then, he’s sharpened his tools. Through debut long-player, Bad Vibes, and his critically received Vacation EP, Shlohmo has massaged listeners with an increasingly accomplished brand of genre-bending electronic music.

In his new EP, Laid Out, Laufer has dredged his tendency for overlayering. Here the sound is notably crisper, distilled with the guiding exactitude of a producer who’s found his way through countless late-nights inside a laptop screen. He’s also dialled up new friends. Opener, Don’t Say No, welcomes to the feast everybody’s favourite wet falsetto, How to Dress Well. Rubbing alongside James Blake at top of the pyramid of teary white men reimagining R&B in 2013, Tom Krell moans like few others. The track evolves into a tenderly wrought ballad, underpinned by a wincing chorus of sampled falsettos. As Laufer ramps up the intensity of his synth machines, the track builds into a bona-fide R&B goldplate with a dark twist. Still moody in its tone, the track comes as a better example of the brooding afterparty aesthetic championed last year by the likes of Jeremih and the Weeknd.

Still, HTDW’s desperate croons aren’t for everyone, but if Shlohmo is masterly at anything it is his emotive manipulation of human voices. His capacity for transforming vocal samples into malleable instrumental elements in their own right allows him to retain the catchy quality of a sung hook while still blending it into a warm collage of accompanying musical gestures. The wailing figures buried under the layers of Later, for instance, sing a charged refrain so densely modulated that its words are indecipherable. These obscured vocal exclamations have become a staple element for electronic producers this side of Mount Kimbie and Burial but few artists command and manipulate the potential richness of the human voice quite like Laufer.

His instinctive feel for a beat remains as keen as ever too. Building on the percussive logic of Vacation, nearly all the tracks on the record depart from the heavy slouch of a D’Angelo inspired beat and rattle towards a deftly restrained trap template. Crucially though, Shlohmo is sensitive to avoid the crass predictability that is fast rendering trap as dirty a genre as wobble dubstep. Never stooping to a formula that structures itself around the all-begging drop, he instead imaginatively reworks trap’s skittering hi-hats within a doleful landscape of thick synthesisers and finely toned snippets of instrumentation. The endproduct is a record that plays by its own rules, marrying instrumental hip-hop, melodic downtempo and sultry R&B in stunning tristesse.

Is this Laufer’s best to date? Maybe. Although its an undeniably compelling listen, the record tails off with an idea that Henry might be leaning on old tricks. Considering the gulf of ambition that separates Shlomohshun and a record like Vacation, one can’t help but wonder if he’s reached terminal velocity.

 

Will Davenport

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