Shlohmo (aka Henry Laufer) may reside in sunny southern California, but the moody atmospherics in his productions belie a fixation with less pleasant climes. His exceptional 2012 track “Rained The Whole Time” is practically an ode to a less than sunny disposition, with its soothing electronic plinks that emulate raindrops on glass and a woefully plaintive guitar melody that perfectly encapsulates the sentiment that so much more could be done about today if only the sun would shine. Shlohmo’s productions provoke the sort of melancholy ambiance so often associated with contemplation on the past or on missed possibility. It’s perhaps ironic, then, that his artistic ability represents fully-realized possibility, a statement supported and expanded upon to encompass some new aural moods on this latest release, an EP of five tracks titled Laid Out.
The EP opens with the haunting collaboration between Shlohmo and mournful R&B artist Tom Krell from How to Dress Well, a pairing that Henje has already noted is a natural fit. “Don’t Say No” begins with a slow backbeat before Krell drenches it with his emotional falsetto. It’s a familiar walk through longing melancholy and the addition of an R&B singer over the top might strike the listener as an obvious step in lieu of the recent spate of success for mournful crooners. But if the first minute sounds like the pair merely took a page from sad-sap R&B artists like The Weeknd, the crescendo wave of synth and quickening pace 90 seconds into the song transform it into something altogether greater. It’s a beautiful track featuring two artists with the same emotional vocabulary, and one can only hope the collaboration is a recurring one.
Shlohmo goes it alone for the rest of the EP, and though none of the other tracks quite match the peak reached on “Don’t Say No”, they are by no means inferior compositions. “Out of Hand” uses a delicate breakbeat, off-beat clicks, and a Burial-esque vocal sample to interesting effect, though at four and a half minutes the track could stand to go somewhere greater than merely removing and re-instating these intertwining elements in the same patterns. By contrast, “Later” transforms itself a few times in its six minutes, using an indistinct howling sample (is it distorted guitar? a voice? both?) to wail over the deepest bass swell on the EP and the most frenetic percussion. This is Shlohmo at his least moody and most expressive, and even as he fades the sample to the back of the audio mix in the track’s denouement, it is haunting enough to remain the center of the listener’s attention.
“Put It” begins with low bass reverb and a snare fitting of a hip-hop track, but the siren-like synth that cuts through the murk gives the track more swagger than any emcee could. This is as good a point as any to remark on how engaging it can be to listen to a Shlohmo record. Much of the Laid Back EP occupies some of the same genre-bending territory as John Talabot’s incredible fIN from 2012, an amalgamation of progressive house, experimental garage/2-step, and instrumental hip-hop that is refreshingly engaging as a larger body of work. This comparison isn’t meant as a slight to Shlohmo in any way – indeed, it is an admission of how difficult it can be to peg him as an artist.
What artists like Talabot, Shlohmo, or many of the artists signed to his Wedidit Collective in Los Angeles (Groundislava, RL Grime, etc.) do is break down genre barriers to make music tied to a specific atmosphere and aesthetic rather than any production technique. As if to put an exclamation point on this fact, EP closer “Without” even incorporates a crescendoing wash of shoegazy reverb out of m83’s dreampop playbook. It’s draped over a hip-hop dub-heavy bass and a steady 4/4 beat before it all fades away to the sound of a bell carillon, so what can you label that other than Shlohmo being Shlohmo? The Laid Out EP is out via Friends of Friends Music and Wedidit on March 5th.