An artist aiming to be signed by his musical hero’s record label should probably do something to really, truly make him stand out from said idol’s countless other followers. It’s one thing to sound similar to a source of inspiration; it’s another to actually understand the topical abstractions this musical/spiritual guide is exploring.
No wonder Lapalux (aka Stuart Howard) has already released an EP and two albums on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label; the two producers have repeatedly explored their fascinations with death and sleep in their 2010s work. Of course the guy who named an album Until the Quiet Comes would be interested in an album about hypnagogia, a fancy term for the slow descent from trying to sleep into actually sleeping. That album, Lustmore, was just Lapalux’s warm-up, though; Ruinism, his newest and third album for Brainfeeder, takes things a step further in a direction Flying Lotus himself explored on 2014’s You’re Dead!, by charmingly examining the space between life and death.
Lapalux’s analyses of this space, just like FlyLo’s, often lack vocals. Since he’s exploring pretty abstract terrain, this choice feels very considered. Vocals might distract from the lack of full awareness as one musically descends into death through this record. It also comes at somewhat of a cost: throughout Ruinism, Lapalux programs his beats with an eye towards gradual rewards, and having no vocals to enhance their accessibility makes them a bit impenetrable at first, just as the fearsome journey towards death doesn’t offer instant answers.
Highlights such as the contrast between the faintly vocal-laced verse and fascinating mid-song breakdown of “Petty Passion,” the deceptive slow build of “Essex Is Burning” and the sluggish trickle of even the album’s shortest track, “Displacer,” require patience to fully enjoy. A sonic study of the end of life should be demanding, if not completely disorienting, and Lapalux has learned this from the best—Flying Lotus’ most recent two albums certainly didn’t make their rewards entirely apparent upon immediate listens.
Another way that Lapalux is truly following his leader on Ruinism: when guest vocals are present, they’re used dazzlingly. Lapalux seems to enjoy intentionally misplacing vocals to further disorient. Icelandic wonder JFDR, who provides beautiful vocal takes on both “Falling Down” and “Flickering,” just has to be the voice blended into “Displacer,” even though this song has no vocal credit. And although GABI is featured on “Data Demon,” the presence of what’s likely her voice is far more strongly felt on its uncredited successor, “Petty Passion.”
Beyond the fantastic intricacies of these songs, a few immediate entry points exist. Ruinism’s most cathartic moments are its most accessible, such as when Louisahhh’s appearance on “Rotted Arp” precedes a beat drop so ominous it could soundtrack a bad horror scene. “Running to Evaporate,” with its bass-thumping crescendo, is likewise an immediate jolt of energy in an otherwise sly, patient experience. The descent towards our eventual demise likely comes with occasional moments of fully conscious realization, so why shouldn’t Lapalux build Ruinism in the same fashion?