Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
LA-based Matthew Hemerlein's debut is a seamless blend of classical symphony and contemporary pop. The spare arrangement of violins mixed with samples on “Boris” leaves plenty of room to showcase the considerable range of his quaking falsetto. It’s not hard to imagine his somber rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s “You’re the One That I Want” in some demented adaptation of Grease directed by David Lynch.
Blue Film, Matthew Hemerlein's intense, intimate debut album as Lo-Fang, was inspired by a mixtape, and the free-flowing blend of sounds on these songs retains some of that feel. Encompassing R&B, synth pop, orchestral, and folk music -- sometimes within the same song -- Hemerlein loves and excels at striking juxtapositions. He makes ukulele and heavy synth bass sound not just natural but seductive on the album's title track, and peppers the set with string-laden interludes that reflect his classical training.
What do you think of when you think of blue films? Me, I’ll always associate it with the term blue movies, which, of course, is naturally pornography, in all of its slickness and grotesquery in equal measure. Well, Los Angeles-based artist and producer Matthew Hemerlein, who records under the alias Lo-Fang, has brought those elements to the table with his debut for the 4AD label, famously home to ethereal acts such as Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins. Ranging from broad styles such as classical to modern-day electronica, Lo-Fang effortlessly ping-pongs between diverse styles, and offers everything vocally from a soulful R&B croon to a Bon Iver-worthy falsetto.
The bio of Lo-Fang, aka Matthew Hemerlein, practically screams 'interesting guy'. The 30-year-old classically trained pianist/violinist/cellist/guitarist/bassist wrote and recorded the songs on Blue Film on his travels, which took in time in Cambodia, at home on the farm in Maryland and in studios in London and Nashville. They say travel broadens the mind, but it all depends on the personality of the individual.
Despite all manner of (sometimes literal) bells and whistles on Lo-Fang’s debut, the voice of Matthew Hemerlein is undoubtedly its star. The Los Angeles songwriter does tender like James Blake on anti-depressants, his vocals sensitively deployed over baroque arrangements of self-played pianos, strings and electronics. The second half of ‘Blue Film’, in particular, is one epic swoon after another, each song a potential album closer.
If Lo-Fang, or Matthew Hemerlein as his friends presumably call him, didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. Artfully tousled hair, sleepy-eyed good looks, classically trained in a variety of instruments and an expert at setting a wistful, moody atmosphere. By all rights, he should be the perfect pop star for a more sensitive age. One person who certainly thinks so is Lorde, for the New Zealand songstress named Hemerlein’s song #88 as one of her tracks of last year, and now Lo-Fang is supporting her on her first major tour of the USA.
Who among us has not been deceived by a beautiful sweater only to discover a less-than-engaging wearer? Who hasn't looked over a shelf full of fascinating books only to hear the owner hold forth on some misguided personal philosophy? If something looks refined, it can be difficult not to admire it, which is why, on the surface, Lo-Fang seems like such a promising project. It's got all the right elements to be perfectly tasteful and even a little bit profound: For his debut mixtape-turned-album, Blue Film, classically trained musician Matthew Hemerlein spent several itinerant years in places like Cambodia, Bali, and his parents' home in Maryland writing songs inspired by his wandering. He plays every instrument on the album himself, and, in interviews, he talks about writing songs on different instruments with the casual ease of someone who really knows what he's doing when he switches from cello to piano.
In Martin Aston's excellent new book, Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD, he documents the label's evolution from a start-up offshoot of Beggars Banquet, to the UK's reigning indie label of the 1980s and '90s, to its extraordinary resurrection after the millennium. For over 30 years, the label has survived and maintained its influence.While no label has a spotless track record, it's hard to imagine that 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell would have signed Los Angeleno singer-songwriter-producer Lo-Fang (a.k.a. Matthew Hemerlein) were he still in charge.
Lo-Fang tries to do too much on his debut album, Blue Film. The project of classically trained multi-instrumentalist cum co-producer Matthew Hemerlein, Blue Film packs in every musical tendency and ability he has. Hemerlein has a moment of boy-band brilliance on the twinkling album opener, "Look Away," which is so slick it sounds manufactured. Partway through, however, the inclusion of a banjo changes the tone and the drive of the song.
Supporting Lorde in the US is a big gig for anyone - let alone an artist without an album under their belt just yet. Lo-Fang’s Matthew Hemerlein may be approaching a massive wave of incoming hype, but this debut is far too conflicted to fully capitalise on it.‘Blue Film’ is an ornate representation of Lo-Fang as an artist. As the sole-contributor, Matthew’s music sounds like it’s passed the hands of many, despite flowing through so few.
Unsurprisingly for a man who has been dragging his feet around Cambodia and Bali for the last few years, Lo-Fang’s sound is entirely eclectic throughout debut album Blue Film. Written on the move between South East Asia and his parents house in Maryland, the now LA-based Matthew Hemerlein has fully drawn on his talents as a multi-instrumentalist and past life as a music teacher, turning his well-trained hands to the art of breathy intelligent pop. Regaling his experiences of travel and journeys into the unknown, Blue Film very much sees the experimental offset against the classical, creating an album full of juxtapositions and soul-searching.