reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Amnioverse has a pretty heady back story. Its creator, Stuart Howard – known as Lapalux – sees his fourth album as ‘a sort of portmanteau of the amniotic sac and the universe’. That means a study of the continuing life cycle, from birth through life to death and round again.
This is brought to the listener through field recordings of the elements and an impressive battery of modular synthesizers. Each track has a deeply personal edge through the inclusion or stimulus of spoken word from figures close to the composer. That means friends, loved ones and even exes, Howard prepared to get as personal as he needs to for his music to make an impact.
What’s the music like?
With the above taken into account, it is no surprise to report Amnioverse as the most emotional and direct Lapalux album to date. The field recordings give it a big presence on the stereo and a massive sound perspective on headphones, which can be truly thrilling at times, especially when the beats kick in.
The clattering drums on Voltaic Acid are a great example of this, as is Thin Air, where the brooding soundscapes that have built up over time are emphatically released. The album operates on a vast dynamic scale, barely audible in some private moments while others have a thunderous depth to them.
Earth manages to walk the tightrope between both sides. The vocal statement is telling – ‘When we look at the situation, out there in the big world, it just breaks my heart. We just seem to be lost’ – and is capped by a full bodied break beat and wide open sonic backdrop, reminiscent of Way Out West at their very best in the 1990s.
Momentine develops into a widescreen panorama, with a four to the floor rhythm briefly taking charge, while Thin Air and The Lux Quadrant benefit from the glacial vocals of JFDR. However Lapalux leaves the most haunting of all his work until last. Esc has a dislocated vocal which sings, rather disconcertingly, “So long, life breath”. It is a striking way to finish.
Does it all work?
Yes. Be prepared to jump on the very first noise of the album, where a high pitched ‘contact’ noise can be heard – but after that keep the volume up, as it will help full appreciation of Lapalux’s way with wide open sonic textures.
The music reflects its stunning cover, which is from a photograph of James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace installation in Texas. While it was hugely ambitious for Stuart Howard to attempt a musical translation of this, a listen to Amnioverse confirms he has largely succeeded.
Is it recommended?
Yes. It is a relative rarity for electronic albums to get quite so personal in their making, but Lapalux does so in a way that keeps the listener fully on board. You can feel the deep emotion up close, but also pan out to appreciate the sheer scope of Howard’s workings. The beats, too, are superbly manipulated by an artist who continues to plumb greater depths and richer shades of musical colour. Just like the cover.