Nostalchic, the debut album by Essex-born producer Stuart Howard, who records under the name Lapalux, is the product of years of devotion to his craft and appreciation for the strange and magical alchemy of electronic sound manipulation. Howard’s early EPs were successful prototypes for his full length debut. Those early EPs were so well received that Lapalux was signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label. He remains the only British artist on the label. Nostalchic is the definitive work that Howard was destined to make.
Howard is as a producer more concerned with texture, soul and feeling rather than big gestures and grand soundscapes. Nostalchic is a record that revels in tiny details. The minutiae of sound and how it can be manipulated and twisted is key. Intricate and abstract sounds are combined with a depth of emotion that makes these insidious pieces of electronica evocative and blissfully moving. One Thing, featuring the sultry voice of Jenna Andrews, is achingly soulful. Warm and enveloping, it’s the perfect example of Howard’s ability to use RnB textures in an interesting way by warping it into an almost sedated, blissed out ultra slow jam.
Nostalchic is an electronic record; however, it takes more of its influences from RnB and hip-hop than it does from clubland. Every track is filtered through a soft focus prism. This understated approach creates some wonderfully exquisite sounds, and tracks like Flowers and Swallowing Smoke have a lovely diaphanous airiness to them. The contrast between the swirling ambient sounds and jittery nimble beats is compelling.
As well as being a nice little pun, the album title of Nostalchic is reflective of Howard’s approach to the album. His nostalgia is for a production approach and equipment rather than any sort of reverence for the past. The approach he uses is rooted in old analogue sounds and tape loops which give the music a welcome organic sound. This very much sounds like the intricate work of one talented individual rather than a severely mechanised, regimented and formulaic sound. The use of jazzy saxophone flourishes give the album a human quality. The chic part is represented in the elegant and classy sounds that proliferate. There’s a lovely lissom quality to much of the best moments here, exemplified by clever use of vocalists, the vocals of Kerry Leathem are put to excellent use on the hypnotic reverie of Without You.
Although the music is often abstract and oblique it’s never at any point impenetrable. This is music that is very much welcoming with melodies and slight hooks that invite immersion. A couple of the tracks fail to make much of a lasting impression but these rare lulls are countered by highs that suggest the flourishing of a serious talent.
It’s easy to see what Flying Lotus saw in Laplaux. Indeed, the psychedelic, abstract approach to the science of electronica is something that both artists share. For Howard it’s important to not just make music that sounds interesting; it’s vital to make music that exists in its own little world, unknowable and distinctly alluring. Nostalchic is an album that certainly achieves those aims.