[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Slightly sick and bone-weary, Shlohmo staggers past airport security and baggage claim to hop into his ride back to his apartment near Fairfax. After sleeping in two dozen beds over the last month, the 23-year-old electronic producer's plane has just returned from his first national tour as a solo headliner. His friends are offering a victory spliff.
The celebration is earned. Few musicians have had as good a run as Shlohmo over the last two years. In the last month alone, the West L.A.-raised art school dropout unleashed the rapturously received Laid Out EP and “Bo Peep (Do U Right),” a collaboration with Def Jam R&B lothario Jeremih. The latter received “Best New Track” honors from Pitchfork, 300,000 SoundCloud plays in its first days of release and unofficial distinction as the best song The Weeknd never made.
“The American scene's changed over the last few years. Rap and R&B were always closely tied, but people are becoming more open to mixing them with electronic sounds,” says Shlohmo, born Henry Laufer. Lanky, dark-haired and inclined toward oversized shirts and snapback hats, he looks more pro skater than a producer with sex-packet songs. “I remember playing [debut] Bad Vibes shit three years ago and people threw bottles at me. Now they're yelling for those tracks.”
Bad Vibes was the breakthrough. Released on the Friends of Friends label, Shlohmo's first official full-length transcended his beat scene background. If the broth of his production boasted the Low End Theory's warped hybrid of underground hip-hop and IDM, Bad Vibes was a barbiturate-spiked bouillabaisse. The wounds of a fresh break-up bled with the codeine crawl of DJ Screw, computer-filtered guitars, found sounds and D'Angelo. Summer jams gone sour.
“It was an experiment in learning to write songs and make space in the music,” Shlohmo recalls. “I recorded pennies dropping on my desk for percussion. I kicked my desk to sound like a kick drum. I wanted to make music out of nothing. I really like pop and wanted to see if I could make pop songs out of pennies.”
The closest he came was a remix. Obsessed with Drake and The Weeknd's “Crew Love,” he reworked it on a whim. It went viral in February 2012 after The Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye posted it on his blog and commissioned it as an official remix. Other reimaginings of songs from the LOL Boys, Burial and Jeremih became melancholy anthems for parties of one. Meanwhile, his remix of Soulja Boy's “Pretty Boy Swag” could make even a 40-year-old backpack-rap stalwart smile.
“I don't do my remixes to generate hype for myself,” Shlohmo says, exhaling. “That's why I usually choose older songs. I'm not the dude remixing Lana Del Rey. Respect to those who are, but I could give a flying fuck.”
He's well beyond the hype stage. Laid Out is a revelation, sensual without being tapioca smooth, gritty without losing its sensitivity. It's simultaneously in step with both the pop producers supplying the silver haze of Drake and The Weeknd, and underground electronic/R&B fusionists like Inc., How to Dress Well and Nite Jewel. The latter plays alongside Shlohmo at his album-release show at the Music Box on Saturday, April 6.
“What appeals most to me are making the tracks from the R&B records where the singer talks about being sad,” Shlohmo says. “That one song that's not, like, 'Hey, I'm going to fuck you,' but 'Hey … baby didn't come home tonight.”