The creative process can too often be one of endless layering. Weaving intricacies on top of one another, original ideas tread the fine line between being smothered or embellished. It’s for this reason, then, that simplicity is habitually the hardest tone to strike. Yet, Essex-based producer Stuart Howard, aka Lapalux, is peeling away at the layers in his third LP, ‘Ruinism’, gesturing towards a disintegrated core.
Howard, the first British producer to be signed to Flying Lotus’ LA-based Brainfeeder label, is not one to shy away from centring albums around thoughtful concepts. His debut, 2013’s ‘Nostalchic’, was a playful electro-R&B musing on the nostalgic mining of samples, as suggested by its portmanteau title. 2015’s ‘Lustmore’ explored the creative space between wakefulness and sleep – hypnagogia – resulting in thirteen tracks of down-tempo, glitchy melody enlivened by the vocal features of Andreya Triana and Szjerdene. Now, ‘Ruinism’ extends the metaphor of sleep into the realm of death, meditating on the spaces between life and its end. Inspired by the theatrical score Howard composed for an art piece performed in an East London cemetery, it takes the disintegration and decay of the ruin as both its concept and means of music making.
Recorded entirely on hardware, Howard then deconstructed each element, re-pitching, re-sampling and blending instrumentation – ruining it – for the record. These ruins don’t have such negative connotations though. For a record premised around death, you might expect its sound to be one of melancholy and even doom, yet throughout the twelve tracks on ‘Ruinism’, Howard maintains his own style of weighty bass offset by soft vocals, bright melody and sparse electronics.
Opener ‘Reverence’ is a three-minute crescendo of plucked strings, keys and sweeping orchestration that bares little trace of Howard’s ruining process. Instead, its cacophony is an insidious sound-bed onto which the rest of the record follows. It is, then, with the first distorted kick thump of ‘Data Demon’ that we feel a sense of the dark scope of this project. Featuring the operatic soprano of singer GABI paired with elongated strings, trap-influenced drums and buzzing synths, the track is a perfect showcase of Howard’s ability to combine acoustic softness with an electronic brutalism.
In fact, it is on the vocal featuring tracks that ‘Ruinism’ reaches its peak, artfully blending a hard-edged intensity with a lyrical structure of emotive introspection. ‘Rotted Arp’, featuring a spoken word poem by Louisahhh, splices her plaintive lyrics (‘I can hear my own heart ringing sometimes/Singing clear and empty/A perfect vessel’) with a rhythmic insistence, propped up by a sinister bass drone. Similarly, ‘4EVA’, featuring the husky vocals of Talvi, finds Howard in familiar electro-R&B territory, merging solid groove with infectious melody.
The instrumentals also largely serve to tie together the vocal highlights. ‘Petty Demon’ is a FlyLo-esque, grime-bass hybrid monster, while the tongue-in-cheek ‘Essex Is Burning’ squelches percussively, and ‘Running to Evaporate’ brings the record towards a satisfying close with its club-ready rhythm and vocal lines. Since Howard is so adept at manipulating a half-time groove and distorted sub, though, the slower numbers on the record can be all-too easily skipped over. Tracks like ‘Displacer’ and ‘Flickering’ dissolve into their surrounding numbers without leaving much of a mark.
On the whole, though, ‘Ruinism’ is a forward-thinking LP full of exciting, manipulated textures, accompanied by moments of subtlety. Although at times the sound experiments can feel too inward-looking, Howard balances the darkness and lightness of his palette with relative ease, producing a record of imaginative depth and danceable surface.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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