Shlohmo's early productions were dense, and his overstuffed work usually ended up getting lost in a sea of similarly abstract hip-hop peers. It was inescapably amateurish—lo-fi and underdeveloped, and prone to bouts of attention deficit disorder—yet charming all the same. This year, however, when Henry Laufer re-appeared on adopted home Friends of Friends with the EP Places, all his best attributes were sewn tightly into a single conceptual template. As it turns out, Shlohmo is one scrappy young artist who cleans up really nicely.
"Places" was woodsy and folksy, Laufer adorning his beats with strummed and plucked guitar rather than the found sound and synth outfits on his previous work. As it turns out, second album Bad Vibes is completely of a piece with its first single. Laufer sticks resolutely to a simple instrumental setup—guitars (acoustic and electric), drums and his vocals—but the configurations he thinks up are vastly different, from softly clicking beats to loud, distorted shoegaze washes to jazz guitar noodling. The latter is always expressed in his trademark fractious manner, spidery riffs that branch out like cracks in stained glass.
The story arc on the ominously-titled Bad Vibes is cyclical, moving from peaceful to anxious back to peaceful again over the course of thirteen songs. The record's first few tracks run together like a suite, with "Anywhere But Here" continuing "Places" in a more downtrodden, jazzy manner. The album shifts gears with the deceptively jaunty "Just Us," which descends into the mock-paranoia of "Sink," where a guitar melody spirals and floats like a firefly painting a trial in pitch black night. From there, the titular vibes start to blot out the sky, and the album descends into a passage of downright frightening faux-shoegaze. Laufer's guitar and vocal moans are exploded, draping the musical background with their sustained and distorted fragments.
For all of its improvements, Bad Vibes isn't some magical makeover, it's just tighter and more focused. It sounds like a bedroom album, the kind of thing someone makes alone after periods of intense concentration and solitude. With the album's preference for guitars and gently nostalgic melodies, comparisons to IDM stalwarts like Boards of Canada are almost guaranteed, but it has more in common with the populist hip-hop/bass pastiche of fellow labelmates like Salva and Ernest Gonzales. It's another triumph for Friends of Friends, and it's a breakthrough for a young producer finally emerging with an individual and inventive style previously only hinted at.
Buy Shlohmo - Bad Vibes at
Tracklist: Shlohmo - Bad Vibes 01. Big Feelings
03. Anywhere But Here
04. It Was Whatever
06. Just Us
08. I Can't See You I'm Dead
09. Trapped In A Burning House
10. Get Out
11. Your Stupid Face
13. Same Time
14. Places (Shlohmo Remix)*Vinyl only
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