Essex beat maker Stuart Howard aka Lapalux comes from a line of contemporary producers raised on production software. Not as a single tent pole in a self-contained scene whose ideas are finessed by the confines and immediate feedback of a collective body, but a benefactor of small grassroots labels thriving primarily online. Labels like Brainfeeder that, despite gathering an international body of artists, are synonymous with a certain aesthetic and attitude. It’s hard to call someone whose primary instrument is a laptop a bedroom musician, but the internet fosters a similarly introverted approach to beats that results in talented dudes like Lapalux who put out material that benefits from feeling individually compartmentalized.
Lapalux’s MO is a balancing of fierce schizophrenic production chops on the level of dudes like Max Tundra or Profuse 73 and the melodic emotionalism of quiet storm infected garage. Howard’s excellent 2011 EP Many Faces Out Of Focus often flirted with outright glitch-hop on tracks like “Cousin If” and “Sister Pick,” but its technicality wasn’t so much explicit or confrontational as there was just a whole hell of a lot going on within any given measure. On his Brainfeeder debut EP, When You’re Gone, Lapalux lets the energy burn at a slow simmer, but the tracks are still goddamn complex. Howard is smart though. The complexities are downplayed to such a degree as to feel understated, making them more significant on further inspection, and opting instead to highlight the tracks’ more emotional and melodic counterpoints.
Opener “102 Hours Of Introductions” sets up the mini album beautifully with recordings of a rainy morning, a cloudy organ melody, and a digitally deteriorating vocal, reminiscent of Darkstar’s North, hiding away from the weather. The beat crashes in and a web of percussive samples and teary synths storm over a halting beat, tension building and releasing between every snare clap. Howard manages to find a balance between ferocious production intricacy, giving the track an earnest drive, and downbeat austerity like a repressive split between roiling emotions and a comparatively even-keeled facial facade. “Moments” is perhaps the main draw for When You’re Gone as the only track featuring a live vocalist and what’s essentially Howard’s take on a pop song, finding the perfect balance between its pop aspects and Lapalux’s hungry production style. Even before the vocalist gets chopped the hell up near the track’s middle, Howard embeds innumerable sticky little details between the clacking drums without getting in the singer’s way. Further along in the EP on more production-oriented tracks like “Yellow 90’s” and “Construction Destruction” Howard will momentarily center on these fleeting hooks like little vocal “woos” or murmurs enhanced by the rapid mobility of their surroundings before they get caught in the rush again.
Brainfeeder is a good fit for Lapalux. The EP might have more in common with R&S or Tri Angle artists, but beyond the drunken kick drums it shares a laser beam maximalism that seems in line with many of Flying Lotus’ production philosophies. Much of what Lapalux does feels very indebted to current trends – R&B-tinged, “Gone” treads the dystopic darkness of Salem or oOoOO, “Gutter Glitter” winds its vocals up like 2010 James Blake – but with the uniform execution and pace at which Lapalux moves, trends seem almost beside the point. It’s as if you chucked the lot into a tumble dry and waited to see what came out, ultimately ending up with something completely different.