When You’re Gone, the debut EP from UK electronic artist Lapalux, is lush and outlandish like many releases from Brainfeeder (the experimental music label and brainchild of LA beat-music champion Flying Lotus). It’s a masterfully produced first work; in the manner of fellow Briton James Blake and many other UK artists nowadays, Lapalux incorporates big downtempo drums, modulated vocal samples, wobbly synths, and dark background textures into his sound. And while his peers are filling the halls of underground London clubs, Lapalux forgoes danceability for pure, swirling headphone music. The complexity usually works, but what is gained from sonic bombast is sometimes lost in clarity of mood.
Perhaps this is why When You’re Gone is most resonant when it whispers: first in the crackly opener “102 Hours of Introductions,” then in the ethereal and drumless last track, “Face Down, Eyes Shut.” The record’s strongest tune is “Gutter Glitter,” which bubbles up and down around a repeating, unintelligible vocal refrain, layers of industrial synthesizers, and fantastic tribal drums. “Moments,” a song featuring the velvety and altered voice of singer PY and wild bursts from a retro drum kit, is also very good, but almost gets milled into obscurity by the low end.
In a way, much of When You’re Gone is about “moments,” moments that are cut, transposed, and layered intelligently with just the slightest tinge of Kraftwerk-era techno. The result is a fragmented sound that is dark and arresting, but at times aimless. As with overwrought tracks like “Yellow 90’s” and “Construction Deconstruction,” Lapalux’s effects can feel rather flat without a heart to moor them.
Brainfeeder has bloomed in quite a few different musical directions and geographical locations since its inception in Los Angeles in 2008. Generally speaking, its artists couple futuristic, sample-driven beat-making with an understanding of jazz, ambient, and electronica influences. And while the array of artists may at first sound dissimilar (compare the crunchy 8-bit hip-hop of Samiyam to the transcendent funk of bassist Thundercat), Brainfeeder’s releases are connected by a common mood–one word might be “nocturnal.”
So, in its innovatory spirit, When You’re Gone fits right alongside the Brainfeeder catalog. The UK-influenced style is a promising edge to the scene, but Lapalux’s atmosphere is a little ungrounded. There’s the sense that his unfettered creativity could be aimed deeper toward the record’s more dreamy, late-night moments.