As each day goes by we become further and further entrenched in a cold cruel world that doesn’t universally recognize Flying Lotus’s sophomore LP, Los Angeles, as a classic single-handedly-changed-everything watershed type of a record. Now, that’s one way to look at it. The other is in a studied view of what followed in the album’s wake. While Los Angeles seems immediately prophetic, it’s curious that it’s influence has (for the most part) remained pervasive only within the confines of its namesake. Los Angeles is not only a city, but name to a strain of forward-thinking hip-hop-based electronic music that is uniquely built upon one of the city’s most talented alum. Yeah that’s him, the man, FlyLo.
2010 seemed to be a height of sorts for the LA strain (hyper compressed kick drums, off kilter Dilla rhythms, lo-fi textural samples) where the Los Angeles biters were left behind by artists like Baths and Teebs looking to build on FlyLo’s designs with a unique approach rather than simply chase after them. And with the ubiquitous monster of dubstep looming over the electronic world, it was inevitable that the two scenes/sounds/whatevers started to make nice and intermingle for the sake of broader appeal. LA native Shlohmo arrives to the field with his ironically titled sophomore release, Bad Vibes – another great example of what the Los Angeles foundation is capable of with a singular voice at the helm.
Shlohmo most readily recalls the naturalistic tendencies of the aforementioned Teebs, the micro-bent percussion of Gold Panda, and, at times, the blown-out slowed-down psychedelic bluesy atmospheres of Forest Swords. Yet the LA producer creates a more abstracted sound, stapled down by woody Books-esque field recordings that seamlessly meld with chimey music box samples and lazy clacking woodblock percussion. Droning feedback-riddled keys often take melodic precedence beside driving humming bass lines and wordless vocals glazed with white noise. Together it creates a cohesive rustic picturesque atmosphere like watching the sunset over a silhouetted treeline on a soggy Sunday summer evening. The album opens with birds chirping behind a keyboard drone that sounds almost vocal as it writhes and seizes. The BPMs rarely crest 70 and unlike a lot of his LA contemporaries Shlohmo favors mood over production indulgences.
All that said, you still do get the bubbly micro funk of tracks like “Just Us” and “Places,” which seem caught between the throwaway-ohhs of a smoothed out sensuous bedroom R&B jam before Shlohmo ups the reverb and pushes the melodies into more cathartic bodiless territories. There are moments across Bad Vibes when Shlohmo’s willing to let a track get blown into a (minor) climax, though it hardly feels melodramatic or contrived. “Your Stupid Face” picks up where “Get Out” left off, letting a thickly distorted blues-dripping bass guitar flop onto the vocal loop from the previous track before ascending into vocal feedback, letting the inevitable drums kick the whole thing down – the most soaring moment on the record. There’s an ear for subtle momentum as well that’s found arranged mostly in the production realm rather than in the songwriting, but considering the tools and minimal aesthetics at work here, it’s somewhat of an achievement. There’s a moment on the back half of “Seriously” where a squelching percussive field recording is climatically abducted and morphed into an affecting mid-rangey synth melody. It’s a moment to cherish.
There’s a notable contrast between the album’s aesthetic extremes. Hiss is used as a constant texture next to metallic string instruments, creating a jagged toothy overtone to the mostly dreamy melodic landscape. “Parties” pairs a huge ahh-ing vocal with several layers of twanging coppery acoustic guitar samples that feel dug out of some rusty tin can while woozy synths ebb in lazy descending sequences. “Sink” thrums with out of tune guitar chords backed by crackling snare clicks before oozy warped analog Boards of Canada synths arrive to get stomped on in waves by the gigantic kick drum. Shlohmo manages some organic contributions – those Keys dumped in layers of trailing feedback, for instance – but their implementation never break texturally away from the firmly grounded sampling and percussion. In fact, as the record unravels those far-reaching human touches, supported by the more grounded electronic elements, become the emotional sticking point with a surprising amount of staying power.