Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: True Panther Sounds
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Left-Field Hip-Hop
Henry Laufer, better known as Shlohmo, has been a mainstay of the Los Angeles beatmaking scene since co-founding the WeDidIt collective in 2008 along with like-minded artists such as D33J, RL Grime, Ryan Hemsworth, and Groundislava. His early releases, mostly on the Los Angeles-based label Friends of Friends, established his abstract hip-hop sound, but his proper debut full-length, 2011's Bad Vibes, signaled a shift toward darkness, with song titles such as "I Can't See You, I'm Dead" and "Trapped in a Burning House. " Dark Red, Shlohmo's first album for True Panther Sounds, fully explores the dark themes that were already clearly present on his previous album, even going so far as to feature stark black artwork and Burzum-inspired calligraphy, almost resembling a release on Blackest Ever Black or Hospital Productions.
Being a beatmaker in 2015 can be a bit rubbish. Despite the internet’s proficiency for sharing, when there’s thousands of other people cramming themselves into the same musical outlets as you are, it’s a fight to get noticed. What’s more, those that have already been elevated above the masses must feel a great deal of pressure to justify their computer’s supposedly superior output over and above all the other thousands.
Best known to pop music fanatics for No More, his 2014-released collaborative EP with Chicago-based soul crooner Jeremih, bass-heavy and R&B-friendly electronic producer Shlohmo goes it on his own with latest album Dark Red with impressive and progressive results. The 11-track LP does with brooding bass-heavy instrumentals what artists like The Weeknd do with lyrics. Intriguingly enough, the ambient soul, trip-hop and rhythm and bass vibes here pack potency that, frankly, words likely could be unable to describe.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There is something undeniably alluring about the dystopic, especially for the artist. The post-apocalyptic vision is one that takes on a different form for any given individual, whether that is a return to some pre-technological primal land or a cold, machine-ruled age. It is the latter that LA producer Henry Laufer tends to favour in his work under the Shlohmo moniker.
In the five years since he started releasing music as Shlohmo, Henry Laufer has seen the haunting, spacious electronic/hip-hop hybrid he helped popularize become the norm; one need only look to the rise of Ryan Hemsworth, who name-checked Shlohmo regularly in the early part of his career, or the Weeknd, whose stellar House of Balloons turned the sound into a new R&B blueprint, for proof. So it makes sense that the wunderkind producer and co-founder of influential beat-maker collective Wedidit would venture away from that sound on his second full-length. Dark Red finds Laufer moving away from the hazy sound of his 2014 R&B collaborative EP No More with Jeremih in favour of something harder hitting, incorporating the clattering percussion of artists like Andy Stott and the Haxan Cloak with the glitch and wonky sounds of mid-career Flying Lotus.
There hasn’t been a new Shlohmo album in about three and a half years, but the LA-based electronic producer has been busy. Last year, he released an EP with R&B singer Jeremih, No More, and produced a standout track on alt pop singer-songwriter Banks’ debut, Goddess. He made remixes for Flume, Ryan Hemsworth, and Laura Mvula, and produced a slew of smaller projects.
Last year was a hard one for Henry Laufer. The Los Angeles native, who records and performs as Shlohmo, saw a collaborative EP with Jeremih delayed for months by mismanagement at Def Jam. In July, the two artists gave up and released the record for free, only to receive lukewarm reviews. Laufer also suffered through some personal losses, ones that he’s done his best to keep private.
It's safe to say some Shlohmo fans will be confused by Dark Red, particularly those who came across the LA producer through his work with Jeremih. The artist we once knew for his reflective, folk-laced R&B beats has all but abandoned this template in favour of something more challenging. In fact, the only thing Dark Red really has in common Shlohmo's last album, Bad Vibes, is a hip-hop influence and the presence of guitar.Dark Red's best moments tend to be percussive.
For a swath of young producers, the novelty of EDM seems to have worn off, replaced with a sense of history that makes the dance floor not just a place for revelry, but also a venue for sonic exploration and artistic invention. “Dark Red,” by Los Angeles’s Shlohmo, lacks the year-zero mind-set that makes most contemporary electronic music feel stale moments after its release. The music finds a middle ground between modernity and paleofuturism, tying together shards of musique concrète and moments that recall the moody, cinematic works of John Carpenter and Deodato with brilliant, breakneck percussion programming that harks back to the heyday of drum ’n’ bass.
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The first sound you hear on Shlohmo's second album is loud tape hiss. Then your eardrums get assaulted by a jagged, distorted synth line. The Los Angeles DJ/producer makes it clear immediately that this record pushes back against the dreamy deconstructed R&B he was once known for, and it isn't an easy listen. The sounds are muddy and lo-fi, the mood unwaveringly bleak, the beats mostly slow and plodding, with occasional forays into drum 'n' bass rhythms.
On the plus side, everyone has access to everything now, but on the downside, most people can’t figure out what to do with all the information. In electronic music, producers often borrow glibly from a range of styles and eras to show off their libraries, but mainly come off as dance-floor tourists. Shlohmo could have gone down this road. For about six years, he’s been releasing music that’s rooted in hip-hop but tempered with the reserve of the moody electronic music of the 1990s.