Lucy: Churches Schools and Guns
Stroboscopic Artefacts

Is Luca Mortellaro's new Lucy collection, the enigmatically titled Churches Schools and Guns, as much of a game-changer as his 2011 debut full-length Wordplay for Working Bees? The short answer is no, which shouldn't come as a huge surprise given how startlingly original that earlier collection sounded upon its 2011 release (and still does today, for that matter). But that doesn't mean that his sophomore effort isn't thoroughly satisfying in its own way and on many levels. It's certainly an ambitious and auspicious collection that provides more than its share of listening pleasures.

In the three years since the debut release, the Italian-born and Berlin-based Mortellaro has hardly been dormant. Last year, for example, he collaborated with Speedy J under the Zeitgeber name, with the duo issuing a well-received self-titled album on Stroboscopic Artefacts, the operation of which is overseen, of course, by Mortellaro. The new album thus finds him running on all cylinders, so to speak, and in prime form on the seventy-three-minute release. That Churches Schools and Guns will be no paint-by-numbers effort is made immediately clear when the harrowing intro “The Horror” provides a brief intimation of the scenic and sometimes unsettling journey that lies ahead.

“Leave Us Alone” opens in quasi-Monolake mode with percussive noise ricocheting across a chugging techno groove, before the radiant atmosphere is soiled by the infamous rant by TV news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) in the film Network (it's the one where he challenges viewers to open their windows and shout "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore"). That the track invites comparison to Monolake is telling in another sense, too, which is that, like some Monolake albums (Hong Kong and Gravity, for example), Churches Schools and Guns manifests certain qualities that invite a dub-techno classification, among them ultra-spacious production, hazy ambient treatments, and thunderous pulses. The tracks' heavy textural emphasis likewise suggests that it wouldn't be inaccurate in describing the album as industrial-techno in places, too (e.g., “All That Noise”).

Numerous memorable moments surface: “Human Triage” juxtaposes surging string washes and a pulsating rhythm pattern to ear-catching effect; “Follow the Leader” overlays a throbbing strut with choral whispers and a Tuvan throat singer's eerie, low-pitched croak; and “We Live As We Dream” (the title an abbreviation of the Heart of Darkness line “We live as we dream—alone”) underlays chiming keyboards with hyperactive pops. But while Lucy is definitely committed to pursuing the experimental dimension in his material, he also isn't averse to letting its clubbier side show, as shown by the locomotive swinger “Laws and Habits” and the pounding, future-funk space-jam “The Illusion of Choice.” One final surprise arrives when “Falling” adds Emme's ethereal vocal musing to the dream-like swirl of the track's beatless arrangement.

One thing in particular is common to Churches Schools and Guns and the other albums that have appeared on the label, those by Xhin and Dadub, for example, which is that all boldly stretch the boundaries associated with techno by focusing attention on its more experimental and explorative sides. For that alone, Mortellaro's efforts and Stroboscopic Artefacts deserve to be supported and celebrated. As an example of the high regard with which his work is held, in 2012 he was asked to perform at the Rossini Opera Festival, whereupon he remixed the celebrated composer live—a request made to one electronic artist per year.

March 2014