The thirty-four minutes of material featured on Afterhours' LowLife is earmarked by a visceral big-city feel that's naturally consistent with Nicholas Crozier Malkin's gig as a host of the long-running late-night radio show Field Recordings of the Afterhours; that the show originates from a low-rent facility in Los Angeles' Chinatown merely adds to the material's nocturnal vibe. One pictures Malkin trudging through semi-deserted streets in the wee hours, soaking up the shady ambiance of fellow nighthawks as they recover from raging parties, and then heading home to bring his woozy constructions into being. Not surprisingly, LowLife exudes somewhat of a crate-digger vibe, its tracks seemingly stitched together from crusty old vinyl albums, jazz and otherwise. The album emphasizes acoustic sounds, with faded hip-hop drum grooves acting as foundations for washes of disembodied voices and assorted instrumental textures.
It begins with the headrush of “Spit at the Mirror,” a skittering carousel of noises and samples that stabilizes itself when a dusty piano figure intones amidst rain drizzle, percussive flutter, and sonar blips. Afterhours' hip-hop leanings come into full flower during “Sixty Forty” when a funky downtempo groove forms a slinky ground for a dub bass line, piano sprinkles, and blurry string atmospheres. Malkin lets his trip-hop side show in the album closer, “Night and Day,” where a tenor sax conjures the image of a late-night jazz club as the drums sing their slo-mo song. “Outcome” flits from a brief hip-hop intro to redefine itself as a credible stab at Marsen Jules-styled ambient, beats temporarily banished so that pianos and hazier elements can drift gently for six minutes. The pace markedly picks up in “Lovesick” where a Latinized, conga-driven pulse invigorates the album with a club-friendly energy that makes body-moving seem like the only natural response. The later “Defragment #2” likewise adds an injection of vitality to its pulsing techno groove, even if, true to form, Malkin remodels it until it becomes a tripped-out ambient-trance exercise.
That a lonely and even desolate quality shadows the album doesn't mean that it's a depressing listen, however—LowLife ain't Berlin, in other words. What it does mean is that LowLife is probably best heard when the city has settled down for the night, and when the intrusive glare of streetlights prevents one from experiencing the peaceful sleep so desperately desired.