Album Review: Shlohmo – Laid Out

LA producer Shlohmo (Henry Laufer) has been establishing himself over the last couple years, and it’s really only a matter of time before he seriously pops. He’s release two full length records and a handful of singles and EPs, and all of them set him just far enough apart from his competition that he stays interesting. The last time Seattle saw Shlohmo was at Decibel Festival this past fall, where he spun a killer DJ set jam packed with hip-hop and R&B, new and old, all mixed and mashed like he prefers (a good example of this preference comes in the form of his excellent FACT mix, which you can download here). He kept the party going and ended the night with the theme song to 90’s Nickelodeon TV show All That and then made fun of himself as Baths entered the stage to follow up his set. “Finally, real music!” he said, pointing to Baths (Will Weisenfeld), who just laughed as he got settled in at the table. But behind Laufer’s DJ front are some serious production chops that make him an entirely unique musical entity. The new EP, Laid Out, is just the next of many that prove that Shlohmo is on the cutting edge of American experimental hip-hop/R&B production, and that progression is a lot more “real” than he will probably let on.

One of the new delights we get this time around is “Don’t Say No”, a slow-burning R&B song featuring How To Dress Well (Tom Krell) on vocals. Here we see Krell at his 90’s best in a slightly cheerier fashion than his breakthrough record Total Loss. His reverberated angelic falsetto whirls and swirls all over the place through this five minute masterpiece, but the real emotional tug comes from Shlohmo’s insane mixture of sounds. This tune is a cultural blend of so many styles, its ridiculous. Classic R&B, dark 80s synthesizers, trap hi-hats, and an experimental electronic vibe throughout make this one of the most unique tracks we’ve seen this year. Laufer knows what he wants on the track – he has a vision that looks like gibberish to most of us. But when the pieces fall into place, Shlohmo’s tracks showcase emotional melancholy amongst a palette that doesn’t typically cater well to tugging at your heartstrings. Whereas producers in Shlohmo’s bracket tend towards lending themselves to vocalist accessibility for collaboration, Shlohmo is in a world of his own. But it is fun to see him and a kindred spirit like How To Dress Well team up for one killer of a ballad.

What Shlohmo starts on “Don’t Say No” is completed in “Later”, perhaps the best track we’ve seen from Laufer yet. The track ventures to the same territory as Laid Out’s opener, but the melancholy that guides the first “verse” transforms into a powerful reconciliation during the hook. Once again, here, we have a plethora of styles all mashed together to create a unique monster that might be a bit standoffish at first.The wordless chorus has all the 80s heart-wrenching fury of a Tears for Fears track (one of Laufer’s 80s loves), but the guiding factors are all hip-hop textures. The syncopated static explosion of his hi-hats and the same dark synthesizers we heard on “Don’t Say No” will give you goosebumps. This really speaks well of Laufer, as most of the time, machine gun hi-hats and goofy synth textures only provide backing for the likes of laughable trap hip-hop. But in venturing outside the realm of reason, Shlohmo continues to surprise us with a style that is progressive, relevant, and danceable, while maintaining its artistic push for more.

Laid Out is out tomorrow, March 5. Shlohmo has no Seattle dates posted at this time.

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