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Ever since I started becoming interested in music as an active listener, I was aware of how little lyrics meant to me. The phenomenon of ‘lyric deafness’ isn’t unique to me, but from my own encounters, it’s never proved to be something all that common. I can hear the lyrics as they’re being sung, and a great vocal will still floor me, but even if I listened a song twenty times over I’d still fail to pick out a single word that was said. I like rap, for example, but less for what’s being said and and more for how they’re saying it.
Shlomo – Later
Listening to Shlohmo’s new song Later, uploaded to Youtube earlier this week, I found myself thinking about this. The lead melody on Later is a vocal line – or at least, what sounds like a vocal line – that has been heavily mangled and manipulated beyond all comprehension. It’s a nonsense set of wailings that do not sound like anything that could have come from a human but which do not necessarily sound inhuman either. It could be described as artificial, or perhaps synthetic, but neither of these descriptors seem quite appropriate for what it actually sounds like. Granted, this isn’t the first time he’s used this sound before – whilst I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of Shlohmo’s discography, songs like The Way U Do use a similar effect – but it’s the way that it has been placed as the centrepiece to the whole song that makes Later really stand out.
Shlohmo – The Way You Do
The way that technology has become an inseparable part of living today means that now, more than ever, it’s hard to quantify what gives something a “human touch”. Later uses soft synths, electronic drums and an unreal vocal, yet it’s undeniably something from the heart. There aren’t really any lyrics to the song, just sounds that evoke lyrics. Listening to it, I found myself considering just how different one person’s listening experience can be from the next, and how differently someone who thrives on lyrical content might hear Later (maybe it’s just six minutes of big, trappish beats and a grating sample?).
For me, though, all lyrics are just evocative sounds, and I’ve always just accepted this as part of my own personal, subjective listening experience. But – while it probably wasn’t Shlohmo’s intention – this track seems to force the listener into my own position of lyrical ambiguity. On Later, the vocal line, strange and unnatural as it may be, nevertheless sounds to me as raw, heartfelt and beautiful as any traditional vocalist. I don’t think it matters whether it’s been heavily manipulated with a DAW or if it’s being belted from the lungs of a great soul singer; it sounds beautiful regardless.