You might’ve heard of The Laohu through the grapevine, or via his track from ChipWIN: Volume 3, Bash of the Kaiju, or maybe you’ve just been a long-time fan of his since he started releasing music back in 2012. Regardless, it’s been almost three years since he last released an album through Bandcamp. In mid-March, he put out his latest musical endeavor through the Pxl-Bot label entitled ‘FROgs’, and the result is an eclectic mix of genres spanning progressive rock to electro. Without further ado, let’s take a look at The Laohu’s latest piece of work!
The album opens up with ‘Splodies’, introducing itself with a panning LSDJ voice, but quickly transforms into a chiprock jam. The Laohu’s guitar-work is spot on throughout the piece, strumming chords and soloing over familiar WAV kicks and square tones. ‘Splodies’ features two separate tempo changes within the first minute of the track, and they’re worked in quite well. Considering how energetic the recorded version is, I can’t wait to mosh to it at a live show.
Up until I’d listened to ‘FROgs’, I thought that The Laohu’s work was primarily instrumental. Numerous tracks on this album, however, feature Lars’ vocal talent and lyrical skill. ‘I Can Breakdance’ tells the story of how he learns how to breakdance in order to win over a girl’s heart. Instrumental work plays a more rhythmic role, with guitar-shredding limited to chords and LSDJ limited primarily to percussion and harmony. The quality of the vocals, however, definitely has a few rough patches. Most of the time it fits the mood of the song and sounds quite good, but there are a few moments when the recorded vocals sound off. For example, around the 1:51 mark in the track, it’s a little bit abrasive once he sings ‘starts’ and again a short while later when he sings ‘stay’. Overall, ‘I Can Breakdance’ is a danceable, peppy jam with a few small faults that can be overlooked.
‘ThreeDee’ highlights other vocal talents in addition to The Laohu’s. Vocal samples from a Don Hertzfeldt cartoon are present and used to great effect; the moment where the listener can hear ‘IT’S LIKE I CAN TOUCH YOU’ is definitely a highlight of this track. This bass-heavy song provides a great contrast to the more melodic material comprising the rest of the album, and influence from modern dance music can be heard. Hype$quad Chip-Hop also makes an appearance in ‘ThreeDee’, rapping a hysterical verse that has to be heard to be believed. The Laohu’s guitar solo after this verse is also of note, as guitar isn’t heard too often in this particular track.
Wrapping up the album is ‘The Roam’, a relaxing, bluesy tune which proves itself to be an extreme departure from the rest of the album. While the vast majority of ‘FROgs’ is moshworthy and energetic, ‘The Roam’ is more introspective in nature. A somber, simple melody provides the setting for a sorrowful tale about a homeless wanderer with no one to return to. The track builds in intensity in the last minute and a half with a change from an acoustic guitar tone to a heavier, electric timbre. Compounded with emotional voicework and pulse channel arpeggiation, ‘The Roam’ is an incredible, dramatic finish to a great album.
I secured an interview with The Laohu on ‘FROgs’ in order to better understand his composing methods and about ‘FROgs’ in particular. Without further ado, here’s our exclusive interview with The Laohu!
Aydan: “FROgs” is a rather unique album; is there a story behind it?
The Laohu: Well, to begin, I had quite a few songs that I’d been playing live for the last 2-3 years that I’d never released. I felt like I needed to get them out before I fully embraced some of the new ideas I’d been working on, so I was just going to put out a quick, messy release. But then Jason Doss offered to mix and master it, and suddenly it was a much more serious project. One of my other ideas for an album title was Clark’s Ditch because I found a place on google maps that looked like pulse waves.
Aydan: How long did “FROgs” take to come to fruition?
The Laohu: From the time I started recording to releasing the album probably took about 7 months.
Aydan: What equipment did you use to record both organic instruments and chipvoices?
The Laohu: I used a prosound DMG and an Epiphone Les Paul Custom, both run into a Scalett 2i2 and recorded in garageband. Vocals were recorded via an MXR condenser mic. I’m not sure what DAW and effects Jason used.
Aydan: Were there any specific musical influences involved in the creation of this album? I think from the vocals and guitar work I feel some punk influence bleeding through but I could be wrong, haha.
The Laohu: Punk, eh? Well, maybe some Rise Against and Strung Out. Probably some Ben Folds, Weezer, Monomer, Danimal Cannon, and many more. I wouldn’t really claim anything as a specific influence, I like to listen to a lot of different music and it all kind of swirls in my head, eventually erupting into a mess such as ‘FROgs’.
Aydan: How did you end up releasing this album through the Pxl-Bot netlabel?
The Laohu: After some dealings online, I met Alex Kelly and Andrew Kilpatrick at Superbyte 2013 when I played the Open Mic. They were very supportive and offered to host an album if I ever wanted. Two years later, I finally took them up on the offer! Andrew has since moved on from Pxl-Bot but Alex has been a pleasure to work with!
Aydan: Some of the songs on this album contrast heavily in terms of subject matter; for example, ‘ThreeDee’ and ‘The Roam’ are almost polar opposites in terms of their lyrical contents. Was there a difference in your mood when writing these two songs?
The Laohu: I approach every song differently. Some start with guitar, others with LSDJ, and some with a catchy lyric. Let’s discuss the two songs you mentioned. First, ‘ThreeDee’ started with the Don Hertzfeldt sound clips from Intermission in the Third Dimension. Then I tried to make some crazy sounds. Then I tried to make it musical. Finally, I needed some lyrical content. Trying to be clever, I tried to come up with something funny about ‘3D’. I came upon the idea of protesting the image of what is beauty. Women can be all shapes and sizes and shouldn’t feel pressured to conform to money-making standards. That being said, I tend to avoid topics that could be misconstrued, so I brought in the Hype$quad to let everyone know to have fun!
‘The Roam’, on the other hand, started as a little guitar riff I started playing while on a road trip out to Utah, I think Kearney, Nebraska. I was feeling the open spaces and imagining wandering around in the arid desert. It kind of snowballed and I ended up playing it the next night at a show!
Aydan: Would you change anything about “FROgs” now that it’s been out for a short while?
The Laohu: I don’t think so. It is already much better than I originally intended. I’m especially happy with how the cover turned out. A frog with a fro: FROgs!!
Aydan: What’s next for The Laohu?
The Laohu: I’m really excited. I’ve been working more synths into my setup. I have an Animoog app that I control via midi signals sent via Arduinoboy. I also have been having a lot of fun with Korg DSN-12. I still use guitar and LSDJ, but the new synths adds a lot of depth and excitement. I’m also hoping to release music more often, so look for that. As far as shows, I will be playing the Chicago Chiptune Festival (unless my wife is giving birth). So, nothing but excitement in my future!
‘FROgs’ is available as a pay-what-you-want download on The Laohu’s Bandcamp, so there’s no excuse not to pick up this album. Although there are a few rough patches with regards to vocals, the album is still something to behold. The Laohu brings some of the best chiprock I’ve heard, up-to-par with the likes of D&D Sluggers and Square Therapy, and I can’t wait to hear what he comes out with next.