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CD reviews


Dark Red, by Shlohmo

Dark Red


True Panther/ WeDidIt

On the plus side, everyone has access to everything now, but on the downside, most people can’t figure out what to do with all the information. In electronic music, producers often borrow glibly from a range of styles and eras to show off their libraries, but mainly come off as dance-floor tourists.

Shlohmo could have gone down this road. For about six years, he’s been releasing music that’s rooted in hip-hop but tempered with the reserve of the moody electronic music of the 1990s. On his 2011 debut album, Bad Vibes, the results were slippery and sometimes sleepy. But on a series of EPs since then — including No More, a rousing collaboration with the fluttery R&B singer Jeremih — he’s refined his approach, making music that’s both more elegant and more driven.

He’s also refining his source material. Dark Red, his sometimes emphatic, sometimes meandering second full-length album, has moments that underscore just how much Shlohmo — real name Henry Laufer — has evolved. The peak here is Slow Descent, which nods to both the hard slap of late 90s drum and bass and also the bleary droops of Portishead. Meet Ur Maker channels flickers of Depeche Mode-style melancholy. And Fading features hard, fast, clinical percussion that recalls the rigor of Squarepusher.

Shlohmo can toggle among those styles because he remains, even among them, firm in his own sound: a sort of slow low-end, a liquid melt. In places where that’s the primary ingredient, like Buried or Ditch, he can get lost. (The song titles are also more austere than the music is.) But when he refracts an idea of old through his certain sense of the now, he shines.


No Pier Pressure

Brian Wilson


There’s a gauzy, soft-focus sound to Brian Wilson’s new solo album, No Pier Pressure, as if the album begins fading into memory the moment it’s heard.

Much of that atmosphere comes from the songs, which savor the plush major-seventh chords and tiered vocal harmonies that Wilson introduced to rock in the Beach Boys’ 1960s hits. Half a century ago, those songs embodied the sun-swept vistas of California youth, although Wilson soon revealed his lonelier yearnings. Now his music is also inevitably tied to a generation’s nostalgia, and to his own long career. Wilson doesn’t conceal the weariness in his voice when he sings, as the album begins, “Life goes on and on, like your favorite song,” and wishes uncertainly that “we could hold onto this feeling and this beautiful day.”

Fleeting joys, longing for the past, lingering regrets and a struggle for optimism fill the album. In Whatever Happened, Wilson sings, “Whatever happened to my favorite places/Nothing’s where it used to be.” It’s a vintage-style Wilson ballad, enfolded in plush oohs and ahs, with a bass-guitar tone directly from the era of Pet Sounds, the 1966 album that is echoed throughout No Pier Pressure.

The music in Sail Away quotes Sloop John B, as choruses imagine sailing away to happier places. But the verses are careworn; in one, Wilson sings, “While I was working trying to make a living/My so-called life was spinning out of control.” Two songs that are included only on the deluxe edition of the album, Somewhere Quiet and I’m Feeling Sad, tilt the balance even further toward solitary reflection.

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