My obsession begins around 10:45 pm on a Saturday night in the desert. Flying Lotus lurches and preens, lit up by a Macbook and visuals projected behind him showing 90’s screensaver graphics and old anime clips. The crowd isn’t moved by crescendo teasing vamps, or glow-stick baiting day-glo synths, but by jagged and claustrophobic drum and bass. Flying Lotus rewired my brain in lock step with the palm trees gently swaying behind him, and ever since I haven’t shaken the feel of that night, the way the tent seemed weighted and buoyed by the music coming from the man behind the table. Stuart Howard’s, aka Lapalux, new release, Nostalchic, on Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder, takes me right back to the joy of that night, the way I walked on the springy grass brushing away specters of sound.
The Essex, United Kingdom based producer is an ocean away from the psychedelic and sincerely fucked electronic music coming out of the Los Angeles based Brainfeeder, but his music is a kindred spirit. Quickly shifting from genre to genre, the music is rooted in wanderlust, the possibilities of the intangible. Howard moves away from categorizing his album as a cohesive statement, instead telling The Skinny, “I always think of albums as a journey,” he says. “From start to finish with Nostalchic, I wanted to emphasise the abstract… with all the layering and texturing, it’s almost like its own little world. I think of each song as its own planet, almost. So you can go there and float around in this weird universe with all this… stuff in it.” The escape towards the cosmic mirrors Flying Lotus’ own songs as astral projectors. As he mentioned in an interview with Interview, “ A lot of it is headphone music. I could imagine the listener laying in bed and chilling out and listening to it in full… picking out the minor details and stuff.” This is music for the head, only rarely for the floor.
One of Nostalchic’s strengths is its depth, its ability to breathe and grow as it moves. Despite its pitch-shifted vocals and its computer collaged beats, it sounds intensely human. On “Guuurl,” Howard fuses the machine and the concrete, bringing a mournful vocal fragment towards bliss by placing it alongside a sparkling beat and pushing it higher towards androgyny. It’s a technique Burial uses to great effect, someone Howard cited as an influence in The Skinny interview, “His work has influenced me quite a bit, in terms of mucking around with vocals and getting them as ‘instrument-sounding’ as I can, and messing around with timestretching.” Howard uses this technique frequently on Nostalchic, transporting the listener away from past musical hallmarks into the future. The stuttering “Flower,” builds slowly, adding and subtracting vocal ghosts-in-the-machine while stacking drum beats. By the chorus, the track sounds monstrous and all-encompassing, not surprising considering Howard has copped to layering up to 60 tracks on his songs.
Howard doesn’t just cut and screw vocals; there are four tracks that feature a more straightforward take. They act as breathers, a chance to catch-up after the speeding neon swirl of the previous songs. More R&B than the Beat music found elsewhere on Nostalchic, Howard proves himself adept at switching musical skins. The tracks are elegiac rather than celebratory, lyrics leaning towards weekday introspection instead of club anthems. On “Dance” Howard even takes the simple and joyous words “Do you want to dance” and instead makes it sound like the shaky knees. This isn’t an ecstatic “loved-up” come-on, instead, it’s almost funereal. Earlier, on “One Thing,” he decomposes and props up pop-R&B structure with monster bass lines that seep through the chorus. The result is so beautifully lush and tactile it’s almost overwhelming.
When Pitchfork asked Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, how he wanted someone to interpret his 2012 album Until The Quiet Comes, he said, “I try to convey this feeling of being innocent in a mystical state, being in a place that’s new, seeing things with brand new eyes, for better or worse. I just imagine this little kid floating on a beautiful king-size bed over the city at night, seeing all sorts of crazy stuff happening in the world.” That nocturnal wonder, watching the world from a perch on high and seeing everything that happens when you’re asleep, that amazement, it’s found on the pure and wide-eyed Nostalchic. On a rare quiet moment during “Walking Words” the vocal line rings out, “when you go to pieces in my arms/it buries that part of me.” It’s a beautiful moment and emblematic of the album, a comfort in the dark, a guiding hand as you fly through the city at night.