If you'd listened to the music Essex producer Lapalux was making about five years ago, you probably wouldn't recognize his most recent album, Ruinism, as his own. The Brainfeeder signee used to smooth together melodic, slowed-down and lo-fi beats that dripped like goo—I remember putting his 2012 EP When You're Gone on the office stereo at a previous job, and after a couple of songs being asked to find something "a bit faster' because a colleague said the songs were making her sleepy at her desk. This was the downward arc of chillwave's peak, after all, when electronic music with a gauzy haze pulled over its sharpest edges gained the most traction on blogs and became the ideal soundtrack to anything from a daytime summer party to a 6AM post-rave chillout to a very eye contact-heavy shag.
"Before, I'd sit there and work out soulful sounds, having a chord sequence as a grounding," Lapalux's Stuart Howard says to me now. "But as I progressed and got older—especially on Ruinism—I wanted to push the listeners who know me as a 'certain thing' to try something new and different." And he's not over-selling that. This album clangs, pulses and shrieks with an intensity and industrial quality that was nowhere near 2015's Lustmore or 2013 debut album Nostalchic. There are still female vocalists telling most of the stories here, but their voices twitch and flow over disjointed beats that recall Arca or Holly Herndon more than, say, early Toro Y Moi or Washed Out. "Ruinism is a difficult listen, in a respect," Stuart concedes, hints of a smile in his voice. "Friends have told me, 'wow it's fucking different'. And I like that, whether it be criticism or something they're celebrating. I think it's just a continuation, a more gritty progression, with a lot of influences from techno, drums and the shit I've been listening to."
You can see that shift clearly in the June album's visuals, too. We're premiering the video for Hirad Sab-directed "Petty Passion" here, which brings to life the Ruinism album artwork created by previous Lapalux collaborator Marielle Tepper. The video is as creepy and wonderful as the cover art itself, which recalls the ancient forms of Japanese rope bondage alluded to in fka twigs' 2015 "Pendulum" video. "Initially, my plan was to compose a frame devoid of any humanness," Marielle says, of the Ruinism cover. "My way to bring in a person devoid of any identity was to have the person naked, with no distinguishing posture, attitude or 'time-stamp'," unlike the warm, nightclub setting suggested by Lustmore's cover.
Hirad then went onto bring this imagined person to life. A giant squid animation floats in an empty expanse first as your brain tries to figure out what you're looking at. Then the lens scans over a mannequin-like figurine suspended from what would be the ceiling if you could actually see the floor. "After he sent me some screenshots," Stuart remembers, with a chuckle, "he said it would take about a week for it to render—full HD, lighting effects and all the rest of it. Then when I saw it, it was just crazy." Hirad told Stuart he felt it was his best work yet, "and when I saw it I was like 'oh shit, yeah'." For his part, Hirad sees the video as "an exploration of intimacy", and a take on how we all seem to float on our own in increasingly dissociated and individual spaces. "'Petty Passion' is an ode to all that one could feel," Hirad says.
The song runs to three minutes and some change, but in that time hops from soprano female vocals breathed over a delicate synth loop to scattershot, deep buzzing basslines beneath a screaming synth effect that sounds like what an epileptic fit-inducing lights show looks like. Stuart laughs, remembering the first time he first played it to other people. "I had a few mates round, after a party, and showed a couple of them a rough draft on a shitty, portable speaker. I remember their reactions being mostly like 'what the fuck?', cos they were used to hearing my downtempo stuff. It was kind of a shock."
Chances are, your reactions to the video may not be that far off from Stuart's friends' thoughts on the track. He's becoming one of those producers who isn't scared to pull off layers of their "old" sound and unveil something new in the process, even if it momentarily shakes up the post-party relaxation. "I wanted to have a situation where you didn't know where the songs were going to go," he says, "or where they were going to drift to." Done and done—it's not 2012 anymore in his studio, that's for sure.
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