Album Review: Lapalux – Nostalchic

[Brainfeeder; 2013]

London-via-Essex producer Lapalux, aka Stuart Howard, carries the torch for the Flying Lotus-run imprint, Brainfeeder, in the UK. Even before releasing his debut EP for the label, When You’re Gone, Howard was marrying glitchy Los Angeles-esque beat philosophies with the sagging R&B-tuned sounds of his homeland. The presence of hyper-technical production chops marked Lapalux’s earliest material via Pictures Music back in 2011 and since joining the Brainfeeder ranks, he’s steadily shifted his attentions to melody and pop craft without sacrificing the heavily diced production techniques found on those early works. On his first long-player for Brainfeeder, Nostalchic, Howard splits the album between both sides of his personality, offering up maximalist, heavily-chopped sample-and-beat collages next to emotive, downer soul-leaning pop tunes.

Nostalchic is a vivid place. Even for a Brainfeeder signee, the album is bursting. Howard stuffs the majority the LP with a ravenous crossfire of textures, yet he avoids repeating himself or stumbling his way into the realm of sensory overload (except, of course, when that’s the point). Each track has a center on which to focus and the surrounding textures are canvased in a multitude of intricately patterned shapes. The trio of cuts that open the album, are as diverse as the record gets. “IAMSYS (Tape Intro)” lands with a swath of pastoral, Teebs-esque samples throttled by some off-kilter, double-take kick drums, “Guuurl” is a vertical 4/4 dance track, surrounding its rallying vocal sample with a solid curtain of samples, and “Kelly Brook” is a shambling, messy crush of collapsing synths and non-sequitur vocal samples.

Nostalchic‘s vocal features are the album’s high-points. Howard cleverly weaves his own skewed sensibilities around each vocalist instead of completely getting out of the way, and on a song like “One Thing,” which features singer Jenna Andrews, the moments where the vamping synths, heel-dragging kicks, and spectral percussive textures threaten to take over, spilling into a minor climax, it provides a striking, tactile landscape for the vocals to roam instead of just a melodic backdrop. The Kerry Leatham-featuring, “Without You,” is an exception. It’s the most straight-laced and stripped down cut on the album, and perhaps the most affecting, centering around a tearful two-chord organ melody and letting the warped, smokey vocals take precedent before Howard starts to climb further into the track and assert himself.

Lapalux has always exuded a genuine emotion, which is what makes the two aforementioned tracks work as well as they do; not to mention other standouts like the widescreen, Four Tet-esque house of “Swallowing Smoke” and the jawboned “Straight Over My Head.” There are a couple of lesser tracks on Nostalchic and it’s up for debate as to how well Howard sticks the landing on the LP format, but Lapalux is a singular talent and his debut is evidence of that even if the pieces don’t all quite click neatly into place.