On Tuesday evening, I attended a listening party for Shlohmo‘s forthcoming sophomore LP Dark Red at the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center, which is, for all practical purposes, an arcade. The attendance was overwhelmingly young, save for two individuals: Björk (WTF, right?) and The Haxan Cloak (who mixed and produced one track on this year’s Vulnicura). Even Shlohmo made it out, introducing the album’s title before queuing up the record. Henry Laufer spent the majority of the listening, understandably, crouched in a corner head-bobbing his anxieties away, lifting his head only to receive a beer from one of his homies.
Dark Red picks up adrenalized and propulsively fast-paced on “Ten Days of Falling,” and those initial surging energies spill over to the following track “Meet Your Maker” as a slow-churning jungle beat. The record is wrought with a kind of viscous anxiety that painfully avoids the jazz-sensible atmospherics of Bad Vibes to produce a challengingly introspective record. The album’s use of white noise, the nuanced and anomalous textures he achieves through analogue distortion, blankets these eleven tracks in a furious, oceanic buzzing that never seems to let up.
There’s a clear arc to each track on Dark Red, an emotionally-charged, unspoken narrative that only finds a human voice, albeit hopelessly awry and malformed, on the record’s B-side. Where Bad Vibes felt improvisatory and spontaneous, the follow-up is painstakingly methodical, sometimes severely so. The intense alchemy of each new sound, the powerful layering of syncopated movements, erratic emotions and accelerated tempos, feels physically debilitating.
Dark Red is a disturbing dance record. It borrows graciously from the heady, bass-dominating productions of Berlin techno and the heavy hysteria of U.K. grime while maintaining a codified coherence, an unfailing integrity for the signature Shlohmo touch. Much of the album sounds like the future butting heads with technologies and aural consistencies of the past, specifically evoking the early 80s slasher flick scores of Harry Manfredini and John Carpenter on lead singles “Buried” and “Emerge From Smoke.” Laufer cites the death of a few close friends and another loved one’s serious health issues as a creative motivation for the record, but Dark Red doesn’t feel like death or the strain of mortality so much as deeply internalized sorrow, manifesting in nearly colourless and incantatory phases.