The arc of Stuart Howard’s releases as Lapalux has been a subtle but interesting movement through the different phases of decadence and messy nights out in seedy clubs and bars. His earliest releases swam around in a pool of dancefloor-induced sweat and laughs, staying fairly close to the tech and house roots that he was affiliated with. On his previous album, Lustmore, he attempted to take a deep dive into the world of hypnogagia – the place between sleeping and wakefulness – but coming in the aftermath of his clubbier releases, it more resembled the point in the night when you’ve had too much to drink, smoke or sniff, and the whole world around starts to blur and slide out of view. It was a tangible experience, but one that left you a little unfulfilled, much like the next morning after a heavy night.

Ruinism, his third full length as Lapalux, comes much closer to evoking that hypnogagic state that he was aiming for, as well as evoking the limbo between life and death, which was a stated goal in the creation of the album. He’s done this by excavating much of the beat-and-bass-induced structure, and allowing spaciousness in his productions.

The album opens with ‘Reverence’, which has little more than a central floating violin theme and some atmospheric work around it. It seems like the build up to a big bass drop in the next song, but Howard is content to just let the strings drift away into the ether and start again from scratch with some slowly pulsating bass stabs on ‘Data Demon’. Again these initial sounds seem to suggest that the song will be descending into a frenzy of beats and clicks, but instead that pulsating is soon swept aside in favour of more delicately chosen strings, cresting alongside the crystalline falsetto of guest vocalist GABI, before some flutes are added to the mix. Only once all of these elements have settled in place does Lapalux then bring back the more intense electronics that had been suggested prior. And it works – the previously beautiful vocals become more tense and eerie when placed in these new surroundings. Throughout Ruinism Howard is subverting expectations in this way, leaving you unsure where you are or what will happen next – much like that hypnogagic state he seems to be obsessed with.

This is where the album will either lose listeners or suck them in – and Howard is only concerned with catering to those who are willing to go with him. If you haven’t caught his vibe by two tracks in, then the rest of Ruinism will slip out of your grasp too. But if you’re focused, then the inchoate atmosphere of these productions will lead you down a deep hole, like some futuristic pied piper. As if knowing this, the third track ‘Petty Passion’ is based around a hypnotic arpeggiating melody and a female vocal sample intoning “I will never see you again”; we’re past the point of no return here.

Now under his spell Lapalux can be more indulgent, and he proves this by allowing Louisahhh start off the fourth track ‘Rotted Arp’ with a spoken word poem amidst a light smoke of electronic ambience. But, once again, what starts as relaxing quickly gets inverted as the closing line of the poem “baby I’ll let it” gets resampled atop a commanding bass thump that rumbles up out of the previously steady foundations of the song. ‘Displacement’ seems an obvious title for an album that does so much to confound expectations of structure, and the song itself is no let down in that department, floating along on a watery melody with subtle female vocals whispering “don’t be afraid”; it’s like a placid gondola ride down the River Styx.

Those getting a little fatigued by the shapelessness of Ruinism and wishing to hear more of a classic Lapalux sound might be appeased by a selection of tracks here. ‘4EVA’ bobs and floats gracefully, without doing anything too unusual, just allowing its beat to flower while Talvi provides a compelling vocal that keeps you locked in. ‘Essex Is Burning’ takes us right out of the spookiness and into a hot summer’s night in Romford or some such town, where you hear house music and hip hop pumping out of every passing car window or cheap pub. Buoyed by the beautiful wraith-like voice of Icelandic singer JFDR, ‘Flickering’ connects on a human level, with Howard keeping his beats subtle and almost subterranean, so that the voice really resonates in an album that has been inhospitably strange for the most part.

As if knowing that he may have allowed a little too much of the mortal world into his sound in those few tracks, Howard ends the album with a couplet that reverts back to the shapeshifting of the beginning. ‘Phase Violet’ and ‘Tessellate’ each push past the 5-minute mark, and any melody or vocal sample that crops up seems distant, crushed under beats and ephemeral; it’s like Howard sucking you back into the void just when you thought you had found the light. Ultimately, this seems to be his goal on Ruinism; to take you into a world of house and electronic music, where each and every artefact that you thought were held dear can be just as easily crumbled and recontextualised to create a whole new atmosphere. This is where which he wants you to venture, and not look back.