In a world in which upstart DiY talent is flooding the gates of electronic music, a few recent voices have been so strong as to be startling. Lapalux - aka 25-year-old Stuart Howard - is certainly one such. As singular as a brilliant artist always should be, his instinctive understanding of the atmospheric power of texture grips the ear immediately on listening.
Nostalchic is his debut album, mission statement, and the climax of many years of studying his craft. The amalgam of words that make the title is aptly, and perhaps knowingly chosen. The album evokes nostalgia without ever sounding nostalgic, and Howard may have had his tongue in his chic when he added the second half of the title. The album is his most focused document to date, adding his beloved R&B and soul into elements of house and hip hop, all with the trademark Lapalux finish; infectious, lopsided swing and achingly deep texture.
Lapalux was raised in rural Essex, midway between countryside and town; the classic, isolated hinterland that's produced many a distinctive British voice. There's a yearning sense to the record that it's tempting to relate to the young Howard's dreams about what his eventual escape into larger life might be. He certainly had a dream start when a shot-in-the-dark email to electronic hothouse Brainfeeder was immediately answered by label head Flying Lotus himself, who quickly moved on to sign him. To this day, Lapalux remains the only British artist on the Los Angeles based label.
Having made fans out of Diplo and SBTRKT, remixed everyone from Lianne La Havas via Crystal Fighters to Bonobo, Tawiah, AlunaGeorge and Speech Debelle, as well as supporting FlyLo and playing the main stage at Sonar and in Japan with Clark, it's prime time for Lapalux's debut full length. Happily, it was well worth the wait.
As declared by opener "Tape Intro", Lapalux is a keen experimenter with tape; looping and layering sounds via the warm-feeling format provides textures that are haunting, beautiful, fragile, and somehow familiar and alien all at once. These experiments are both purposeful and successful, and their result is dizzyingly good. Add to this his gift for treating a vocal, and the effect is profound.
If many producers use the electronic staples – glitches, fragments and unfamiliar swing – few know how to use them with such intent as Lapalux. Howard adopts these devices only to enhance the emotional force of his music, never simply for their own sake. On single "Without You",(which features the brilliant Kerry Leatham), the rainy-day, heartbreaking blues is made all the more powerful by the slowed-and-sped vocal. Sung straight, it wouldn't have had the sense of shattered, conflicting emotion that it does. This is electronic music at its finest: affecting and haunting in a way no other 'genre' can be.
"Straight Over My Head" illustrates Howard’s ability to write a brilliant song. From its tentative, melancholic start, a bassline opens up like a sudden, breathtaking vista, the song abruptly driving forward and taking the listener helplessly with it. On "The Dead Sea", a squall of jazz trumpets plays over urgent percussion, swirling bass and vocal-like textures to heady effect.
Nostalchic not only has all the hallmarks of a great album – a sense of cohesive purpose, its own themes, arcs and internal logic – it’s an album that could only have been made in electronic music. Howard understands the power and capabilities that are offered by his form, and he’s used them to the full.
2xLP + MP3 (BF037)
Japanese Bonus Disc + MP3 (BRC376)
CD + MP3 (BFCD037)