Shlohmo’s sophomore record, last year’s Bad Vibes, was a revelation. Less because it strove to top the pack of albums made by producers still chasing after Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles three years after its release, but because it was confident, smart, and exceedingly comfortable in its own skin. Where many others scrambling along the same proving grounds might have plucked another blurry vocal to throw next to a helping of side chain compression or let their synths bake in the sun or whittle their snares to a finely tuned wood block rattle, Bad Vibes always surprised. The drums were barbed like aged and rusted wire, vocal samples were often buried beneath trailing waves of distortion, there was an intentionally-flawed and blues-y sense to its melodic arrangements, and the record recalled the familial coziness of Music Has The Right to Children long before anything else from the last decade. But it was the commitment to big feelings (coincidentally the name of the album’s opener), giving Bad Vibes‘ an almost singer-songwriter-y intimacy, that helped the record stick. Where so many of Shlohmo’s contemporaries are willing to simply ride a track out, the young LA producer took some big risks in the name of sincerity and emotional bombast, and most of them paid off.
The three-track Vacation EP arrives nearly five months later and it cleans up the sound found on Bad Vibes. The consumer’s guide break down of Vacation is there are two excellent tracks here and one almost excellent, sort of forgettable track. Most of the EP sticks to Shlohmo’s more indoors-y tendencies leaning on melodic downbeat synths, acrobatic vocal samples, and plunks of skittering percussion like a runny faucet dripping into an empty bathtub. The standout is opener “The Way You Do,” which rings almost every possibility out of a couple choice vocal samples, crescendoing near the middle when one gets set aflame with a few layers of overdrive, turning it into a teeth-gritted shriek. It’s simple, but extremely effective in pushing the track into the emotional red.
“wen uuu” is done no favors by being book-ended by two superior tracks, but it’s got a mean little vocal hook, cut up beyond recognition as the blooping double time percussion rains down in droplets all around it. “Rained The Whole Time” has the audacity to lead with a single plump organ chord burning down its center. The cut opens up near the middle with two world-worn guitar samples dueling it out as a couple pitched-down vocals howl mournfully beneath. Weary and beautiful is something you don’t often get from current trends in weirdo hip-hop, but Shlohmo has got it in several shades of blue.
Vacation is a noticeably cleaner document than Bad Vibes. Gone are the blown out kick drums, hissing field recordings, and out of tune acoustics that helped give the record color as well as a lasting endearing quality, and I can’t say I don’t miss them. Vacation feels less impulsive and human – less like it was born from memories brought back from time spent in the wild. It’s tighter, more produced, and it keeps its emotions in check. It may point toward a more approachable direction for Shlohmo in the long run, but who knows how accurate this EP will be in casting a light on the future. Still, Vacation shows that, even with only three tracks, Shlohmo is a producer who can leave a vivid impression.