Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Whether a deliberate signalling or not, on Lapalux’s Soundcloud page, below his real name of Stuart Howard, his location is set as “Brainfeeder, Britain (UK)”. While clearly he’s certainly not the only artist to link their location and label on Soundcloud, those playful plosives raise some interesting questions on ideas of place. It speaks to the wide-reaching positions internet culture situates us in: Stuart may have been brought up in rural Essex, but as a part of the Brainfeeder ethos his sounds can effortlessly reach to the ends of the earth and back. The affiliations with the Low End Theory scene and the now more analysed LA beat scene, which first led Stuart to sending a demo to Flying Lotus and later becoming the first and only UK signee, are present and correct on his debut album ‘Nostalchic’. But deeper within these elements, and arguably more important to the record overall, are the more classically British characteristics of control and restraint – as well as an anchoring ear for the sweetest and most alluring of pop sounds.
Outside the confines of one scene, Lapalux’s debut is ultimately one that is consistently enriched by both the LA beat scene’s mind-expansion and the UK’s intimacy with melody.
While you could spiral way back into pop history to identify the UK’s consistently sharp way with a melody (hello, British Invasion), there’s no need to go that far back; even experimental-leaning artists of recent years reveal a keenness for an infectious pop melody. Mount Kimbie’s Maybes may begin with cavernous, end-times drum thuds but, when it kicks in, that mostly unintelligible vocal is catchy as hell – and as Chet Faker tried to point out with his recent cover, Burial’s Archangel is more effective as a piece of pop than many radio-friendly unit shifters.
Such strains are identifiable throughout Lapalux’s ‘Nostalchic’, even on its more cut-up and sampled moments, with Guuurl’s pitch-tweaked vocal rarely keeping still but consistently grounded in a clear central refrain. And while Flower is seasoned with the kind of cavorting, lopsided production familiar in the LA beat scene, they’re never there to overwhelm, but to colour what aren’t simply “tracks” or “jams” but songs: and ones that could easily be mouthed along to in the midst of a club set. The crowing moment of this on ‘Nostalchic’ comes with Straight Over My Head, which crackles and ignites around its aching, manipulated vocal – building like the first eruptions of flame licking out of a campfire.
It’s important to note that these certainly aren’t elements that have suddenly appeared within Lapalux’s sound – but have instead been gradually built upon with Stuart’s earlier output. While his previous two EPs for Brainfeeder were particularly strong, they don’t quite stick in the way the album does. The effect is that those EPs in some way feel like forerunners – rehearsals before the main event – to ‘Nostalchic’, and it may be testament to Flying Lotus’ canniness as a label boss that the 25 year-old hasn’t rushed into hastily putting out a debut album. The title ‘Nostalchic’ suggests a slicker take on looking back but as much as that may suggest a wider cultural reassessment, there’s also a feeling of personal nostalgia. This sense of building upon a personal past come immediately with Iamsys (Tape Intro). Its reeling, whirring sequences nod back to the clustered tape loops of Lapalux’s first ‘Forest’ EP, while also providing real energy as we are introduced to ‘Nostalchic’s luxurious, shimmering landscape.
Stuart has spoken of himself as a producer with a tendency to tread back over his music almost to the point of “remixing” his own work – a form of obsessive going-over that is arguably one of the major blesses/curses of the current laptop generation. But while that sense of layered richness is at times on show – take the playfully titled and wild kerfuffle of Kelly Brook – ‘Nostalchic’ is not an album that feels over-thought. There’s an over-riding sense of control and an awareness of where space is necessary.
Outside the confines of one scene, Lapalux’s debut is ultimately one that is consistently enriched by both the LA beat scene’s mind-expansion and the UK’s intimacy with melody. Carving out new ground between the gnarlier, cinematic ends of Lorn and The Gaslamp Killer and main man Flying Lotus’ scatological jazz-y sketches, ‘Nostalchic’ is one of the consistently melodic, song-focused albums Brainfeeder has released to date. And that’s no mean feat on a label this strong. Without coming over all patriotic, we’ve got reason to be pretty proud of Brainfeeder’s UK representative.