In the middle of Red Bull Music Academy’s latest episode of H∆SHTAG$, a surprisingly adept series on “internet music phenomena,” Shlohmo gives a succinct impression of his music, “Hip-Hop production, for a long time, has been electronic music.” It’s not a startling confession, TNGHT ‘s self-title EP from last summer was a loud and welcome genre-definer, but it’s a good introduction to Shlohmo’s new cavernous EP, released on his WEDIDIT imprint, Laid Out. Bass-focused, Laid Out bridges the gaps between the bedroom and radio bangers, a missing-link between Lex Luger and Boards of Canada.
Shlohmo points to the Low End Theory, a hub for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, as a launch point to his evolution as a producer. Going to club nights impacted Shlohmo’s sense of space, the sorts of rooms he plays too. The Los Angeles based electronic hot spot is famous for breeding a laid-back take on Beat music, love-letters to the head-nod. On Bad Vibes, Shlohmo’s 2011 album, he buried the beat beneath layers of misdirection, obscuring the groove until it was just underneath the surface, whereas his 2012 ep, Vacation, was more nocturnal and spacious. Laid Out takes Shlohmo back to the club, a mixture of more exploratory ideas with the more defined structure of pop-music. It’s something he points to in an interview with FACTaround the release of Vacation, “I went through a huge period of only listening to really experimental stuff and atmospheric, ambient stuff. Now, I’m kind of bored. I listen to a lot of pop music too, so now song structure for me is one of my…it’s harder for me to make a song than it is to make a texture and an atmosphere, you know what I mean?” Rather than murky and unconfident, the cross-pollination sounds assured and natural.
The payoff is in “Put It,” a slow burn that features a tuned down hi-hat, a production tip-of-the-cap to the slowed-down rap productions of DJ Screw, Shlohmo mentions in the FACT interview. There’s a distinction in hip-hop instrumentals between tracks that sound like they’re missing something and ones that can stand on their own. It’s easy to imagine a skilled MC rapping over “Put It” and it’s assured cadence, but it doesn’t sound like it’s missing anything either. Shlohmo doesn’t stay in one spot, or genre, throughout Laid Back. On “Don’t Say No” Shlohmo molds his sound to fit How To Dress Well’s take on R&B, his claustrophobic layering mirroring and accentuating How To Dress Well’s vocal hysterics. I was worried it wouldn’t gel, How To Dress Well’s albums are cloudy and atmospheric takes on pop, but he excels over Shlohmo’s bombast.
There’s a point to be made for Shlohmo being the producer of the moment along with his WEDIDIT label-mate Ryan Hemsworth. Both meld hip-hop and R&B to electronic music, showing the similarities between the three. Shlohmo even remixed Drake’s Take Care lynchpin “Crew Love” and turned it into something sinister, somehow lowering The Weeknd’s voice into even murkier territory. Laid Out is an extension of that track’s feel, an assured mash of genres and styles.