- The one-time LA beat scene darling unveils a more epic sound.
- When Shlohmo's debut album, Bad Vibes, came out in 2011, he was hailed as the golden boy of Los Angeles' fertile beat scene. It was the heyday of Flying Lotus's school of psychedelic, unquantized instrumental hip-hop, which coalesced around the party Low End Theory and the high tide of post-dubstep. Shlohmo, AKA Henry Laufer, spoke to both audiences with an emotive brand of bass music that skillfully captured teenage angst. But his latest LP, The End, is a lot like his last, 2015's Dark Red, in that it sees Laufer move away from that scene.
The early Shlohmo vibe remains on The End via his plink-plonk keys and baleful guitar licks. But while Laufer's first album was melancholic and sensual in a way that was cosy and intimate, like a secret shared between two friends, The End reaches epic proportions. Bad Vibes' melancholy was the size of a bedroom or the backseat of a car; The End is stadium-sized malaise, an onslaught of obliterating emotional drama. This is likely down to the album's concept, which Shlohmo describes as "vaguely about the end of the world… but from the viewpoint of smoking on the couch during the extinction event."
On the opening track, "Rock Music," a rickety beat caves into an overpowering wall of shoegazey sound, and the moments of silence maximize the catharsis of its epic drop. A synth wails while another voice cries and the bass groans, all of it pushed into the open arms of guitar power chords by the drums' limping gait. Laufer has always had a preternatural ability to convey adolescent angst, a feeling that is also pissed off and narcissistically preoccupied with one's own painful transformation. (He also reflects that mindset in track titles like "Staring At A Wall" or "We Sat In The Car.")
Compared with his earlier rush-of-sound power ambient anthems like "Trapped In A Burning House," songs like "Headache Of The Year" have a heavy, doom metal edge that pushes The End further into an indie realm. Other tracks return to Laufer's softer, subbier side. The End's title track and "We Sat In The Car" use the same elements you might hear on older tracks like "Places" or "Anywhere But Here." A soft kick rocks a melody hewn from wistful plucks on a guitar. Laufer might have once nested these melodies into a chill, lo-fi beat for studying and relaxing, or at least a cushy blanket of bass. Now he favors midrange over sub frequencies. The upside is that he's able to achieve a raw might and stylistic ambiguity that he couldn't before.
But nothing on The End is as groovy as it could be. The power chord guitars and screaming synths, not the rhythm or bass, drive the momentum on key tracks. That's a missed opportunity given how well his music would lend itself to the laments of Xanned-out Gen Z SoundCloud rappers. Shlohmo would be a particularly compelling collaborator for someone like the late Lil Peep. A sludgy, poignant beat like "Eating Away" or the crashing-waves rhythm and feedbacking guitar of "Hopeless" would have given Lil Peep's teenage nihilism a strong foundation. Still, The End articulates one of Laufer's biggest strengths: capturing a familiar hue of pubescent suffering, in all its contradictory shades of bravado and fear.
01. Rock Music
02. The End
04. Eating Away
05. Headache Of The Year
07. Staring At A Wall
08. We Sat In The Car
09. Panic Attack
10. Watching A Video
11. The Best Of Me
12. By Myself
13. Still Life