How do you ruin technology? Technology is designed to fulfill a designated function. It may not work perfectly all of the time, but it is never designed to do anything other than fulfilling a need or application. Despite its flaws, technology is intended to assist, enrich and supplement our lives. Therefore, to tamper with it for it not to achieve its whole reason for existing would be self-defeating. It is, of course, possible to hack something for it to work differently than was initially intended but even computer viruses and ransomware are still designed to achieve a designated function, however dishonest and underhand that may be. So what happens when you deliberately ruin something? To deconstruct something with no prior idea of what this might achieve. Would there be some comfort in nihilism? Would we find new meaning in the unpredictable space between order and disorder? As an artist what would happen if the tools you worked with were pulled apart and put back together to achieve the same purpose? Would we get a different, more satisfying result? These are the questions that Lapalux sought to explore on his new album Ruinism.
On this follow-up to 2015’s Lustmore, Essex based experimental artist Lapalux, radically altered his way of working. To satisfy his artistic need to do something entirely different, he carefully layered sounds and instruments by recording synths and drums and then tearing the recordings apart by re-sampling, re-pitching, warping and combining them. In effect, he was ‘ruining’ his original compositions before seeing what could be recovered from the broken pieces that remained. For Lapalux this is what is meant by the term he coined to describe this process, ‘Ruinism’.
The multi-layered opener “Reverence” is a prime example of this method of working. The busy pulse and synths provide the anchor for the erratic bursts of brass and strings that swell and recede. The fragmented piano warps as the song progresses. Throughout the album, it is clear that Lapalux is looking to sabotage any calm he manages to create. “Data Demon” is a gloriously hazy atmospheric track with Lapalux pitching in classical oboe with sharp, floating noises and ‘80s synths that gradually become more malevolent. Like the calming silence before a battle, they are joined by chaotic bursts of drum and bass. “Petty Passion” is a busy number as echoing, glitchy, hip-hop beats are confronted by more graceful vocals. It is as if the the song is attempting two parallel methods of forcing submission from the listener. With one trying to beat the listener over the head and the other luring and coaxing like a siren.
“Rotted Arp” twinkles and swells with pretty synths and an arpeggiated riff filling the spaces between Louisahhh’s spoken word vocals. From over the horizon comes a marching beat that smothers the whole thing as Louisahhh intones “Maybe I’ll let it” as if being pushed back by the force of the music around her. “Falling Down” is a more ethereal, ambient dance track with tender, floaty vocals from Icelandic singer JFDR that tug on the heartstrings as they glow through the deftly crafted musical mist. She also returns on “Flickering” with a similarly glorious, crystalline vocal turn. On these more delicate tracks, there seems to be less emphasis on how to deconstruct the songs, as if he is commenting on the lasting beauty of nature over the human-made inelegance of technology.
Between these more graceful tracks and the almost industrial roughness of others sit songs that act as palate cleansers. “Displacer” is a purgative and cathartic piece that provides relief and calm. “4EVA” is a disorienting, woozy mix of heavily processed re-pitches and re-samples that provide the backing for Talvi’s sultry vocals. With such a rigorous and challenging ethos behind the album, it should come as no surprise that this is not an immediately accessible record. “Essex Is Burning” is a slow burning blitz of bleeps and fidgety beats with snippets of vocals looped in. It’s an initially confounding experience that grows in stature after repeated listens. “Running to Evaporate” is a more beat heavy song while closer, “Phase Violet”, initially eschews definition and takes flights as a more jazzy, shapeless abstract track. That is until it’s propped up with clear, full beats that act like the wind catching a kite in flight. The final track is the point where the concept of ‘ruinism’ comes full circle. The often harsh deconstructed beginnings of the record finally settle as the album concludes.
With Ruinism, Lapalux has succeeded in achieving something genuinely unique. It’s not a case of him throwing the pieces in the air to see where they fall as every track is still clearly painstakingly put together. Rather, it has freed himself from his expectations and his routine to achieve an unexpected purpose. It is a method that has resulted in one of the stand-out electronic releases of the year so far.