Lucy – Churches, Schools And Guns [SA]
There are certain points in an artist’s career that loom as perennial landmarks, self-evaluating checkpoints that creative worth is measured against. The sophomore album-length is one such landmark. Whether it’s trying to break out of old habits, or solidify existing studio fingerprints, there is no doubt that an artist’s second album is equally, if not more, crucial than the first. The second LP offers up a crossroads, presenting a dizzying plethora of routes and possibilities. The artist must make decisions, that, whether they acknowledge it or not, will have a lasting influence on the conduit of their future output.
The trajectory of any artistic career is always a fiercely personal one, and where one may complete an album for their first ever release (such as the young Gunnar Haslam on L.I.E.S. last year), one may take a good decade or so to tackle the revered art-form. It took Brahms until he was over the age of forty to complete his first symphony, out of the impossible promise and prophecy of Beethoven’s legacy. He wrote it over the course of twenty one years (obviously back then he didn’t have Ableton to sequence all of his instruments).
Luca Mortellaro, alias Lucy, has been making waves in the underground for over half a decade now and is one of the most exciting producers to emerge out of Europe over the last few years. Currently based in Berlin, his contributions to techno and electronic music have not gone unnoticed, with regular appearances at festivals such as ADE and Time Warp, and esteemed recognition from peers the world over, Mortellaro as an artist seeks to boldly explore musical spaces regardless of whether they are populated by others or not. A broad outlook and a fearlessness in the face of conformity has seen him become an indispensable persona in the world of electronic music.
Lucy‘s inaugural welcoming to the scene came in the form of a three track EP in 2007 (the Open House EP, fairly rigid electronica already embedded with germinations of his later style). In 2008 Mortellaro offered a Jon Hopkins-esque 12″ called Downstairs which quickly saw his style mature into more universal musical inquiries, as well as the Who’s The Liar EP which sees through Lucy’s early ventures into techno, both released on Meerestief Records. Since then, the Italian-born DJ and producer has steadily risen above the ranks, contributing a mix for Resident Advisor in 2011, and back in 2009 setting up his own label Stroboscopic Artefacts, a prescient and daring project that has been responsible for pushing techno further than it’s ever ventured previously. 2014 began positively with a confirmed residency at London after-party mainstay Jaded. It appears that now is a good a time as ever to put out perhaps his magnum opus thus far, Churches, Schools And Guns.
It takes just one listen through to recognise the artistic completeness, the holistic unity with which this album has been written and put together. It takes a second listen to begin to really feel the contrast of shades and colours that seep into this sound-collage. But really it takes at least the third to finally get a grasp of the conceptual nature of this album, to find understanding and coherence in its fabric, to really connect with and bask in the album’s grand design. This isn’t meant to be dance-floor functional, this is conceptual electronic music that demands appreciation of the abstract.
The opening track, The Horror sets the scene with spluttering synths and slowly pulsating oscillations. A solitary signal awakens vividly onto the unearthly landscape, noisily cutting through the mist with razor-sharp clarity. A short prelude that seethes with a cold, sinister mien, it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Following The Horror is Leave Us Alone, a lethargic journey through space and time that seems to transcend time as a human concept, the restrained constant of passing seconds. It wanders obstinately into infinite darkness. Half-way through a strangely familiar voice enters, despite our attempts for absent-minded solitude. Distant inferences echo through the mind, “We know things are bad, worse than bad . . . We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat . . . It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller”; words that seem almost meaningless to us now, yet still have faint significance strung to them. The track seems to embody a future present that looks back retrospectively with an unshakeable, sorrowful helplessness. Taken from ‘Network’, a 1976 American satirical film, Mortellaro uses fragments of a speech that the film’s protagonist, Beale, orates. We can’t help but feel that the statement this album is making is also a satirical one. The starkness of this track is reflective of a sedated consciousness, one that’s forgotten its independence, its ability to live. Words like freedom, and independence, are nothing but abstract ideas, almost incomprehensible. What is scary though, is the imminency of this reality, and how current this narrative runs – despite negative ideas on post-colonialism and the birth of the mass-market existing as early as the 1960s. As resolute as the track title and vocal reprieve, so is the track’s character; more damning than all is its painful, bitter, acceptance.
(Listen to the whole album below via this playlist:)
The Self As Another follows on, picking up the pace with a faster meter and sharper percussion; Lucy builds up the track numbers nicely. Where the previous track had lost all courage and impetus, here there is a revitalised energy found in the double kicks, and subdivided hats that are airy and crisp. The lonesome synth lines are sombre and basic. Human Triage appears to conclude the album’s lengthy introduction. We are transported away from the historical baggage of previously expressed emotions and are taken to something more clear-headed. While loosely maintaining the narrative content, the track assumes a sobering perspective as we attempt to make sense of the aftermath. As the title suggests with explicit honesty, the track evokes an antagonistic relationship between irreversible loss and hope; hope not in its pure, basic sense, but hope born out of an acceptance, an understanding, and existent out of the tenacity of persistence by default.
We’re awakened from our weary bodies and our hazy, anaesthetised minds as track five, Laws And Habits, kicks in. The precision of that crushing kick dictates the calculated drop of gun-shells as they rattle onto the floor; the sharp cut-off of the kick and syncopated din provide a punchy entrance that arouses attention, as metallic clangs dance rhythmically underneath. The accompanying filtered hits are evocative of cold, dense steel, and a contained industrial aggression. The tight ensemble is hypnotic in its mechanical precision, each and every component obedient under its choking, icy grip. As melodic interest builds into the texture, with veiled synths edging the surface, Mortellaro subtly nudges us forward into the next track as the track dissembles and unwinds . . .
Follow The Leader carries forward the authoritative nature of its precedent. There’s something intrinsically malevolent about its nature; ominous drones chant a sorcery blacker than the night, while a palpitating bass drum aligns us into rank and file. There is no turning back, yet these distant drones that seep through the walls are less than enticing. Our unnamed master is morose and indifferent to our feelings and we have no choice but to follow and obey. The use of chimes and gongs, coupled with the Delphic rituals add a mystical flavour to the track. The march carries on indefinitely, a loop of reality that crushes all optimism that had previously existed.
Our far-Eastern traverse continues across the twilight landscape: Catch Twenty Two envisages vast night-time desert expanses, its modal harmonies and minor melodic line perfectly suited to the dunes and featureless lands of distant places. The track expresses feelings of resignation as it pulls back in dank reprieve from Follow The Leader, yet its later cadence gives hint to a feeling of acceptance, as we realise that we have no choice but to embrace the ultimatum that has been presented to us. This alone is enough to ease our despondent minds. Again, a feeling of overbearing loneliness engulfs our ears, yet we still manage to hold onto some, albeit dwindling, sense of purpose. This number feels like it is closing the chapter that Laws And Habits had earlier started.
A running theme throughout the album is the minimal nature of the music. The sound design is rich in detail and purposefully engineered, yet tracks seems to embody a time-frame larger than themselves through repetitive cycles. In this sense, every track on the album captures a defined mood, and narrative to go with it; though tracks are kept organic – as if they are living, breathing – through the denial of standard cut-and-paste production techniques, giving the material true substance.
The Illusion of Choice brings back the military narrative with the relentless foot-fall of an army. Falling out of time with the percussion, the footsteps are illustrative of a marching battalion that edge ever nearer to the front line. A powerful kick enters, a call to war, a mediator of death. Machine guns are fired on all sides, flanking our path, while the masses storm forward, unfazed, unfaltering. The discordant bass-line is almost mocking, and married with the synth interjection forms that characteristic groove found in much early German techno. The track title can elude to a number of things here, and could just as easily touch on conscription and the perpetual existence of War as it could the bind with which modern society chokes us with – the war of today is not one of physical violence and national borders, it is one of society, psychology, ideology. Indeed, the illusion of choice remains to be one of the greatest deceptions in history. Yet as the track progresses we shift away from the battlefield and its ensuing conflict, and slide into the microcosmic struggle of the mind. The resonant bleeps mark a steady unravelling of the psych as we grope for sanity. This one will be a refreshing hit for those in need of their techno fix who have just ventured from the dance-floor and enjoy their music served heavy and four-to-the-floor.
We Live As We Dream drifts in with waves lapping on the shore. Agitated clicks and taps flicker in the dim light as a light kick drum pulses unpredictably, unassumingly in the middle-background. Arpeggiated synths and comparatively warmer harmonies create this dream-like state that the title eludes to. We soon come to embrace the agitated clicks and taps as we celebrate in their animation, their life and their vibrancy. As if waking up into some nebulous reverie, we are washed of the pain, the strife, the suffering of the preceding material. It is strange to see how powerful a simple major harmony can be so cleansing after eight tracks of bleak, oppressive perspectives. Following suit, the next track entitled All That Noise, zooms out to the macroscopic. We can hear the deep, percipient orbit of planets and masses; there is a certain indifference, a coldly infinite reality that transcends any philosophy. We come to a realisation and an understanding of the microscopic blip that we are in the grand scheme of the universe, whether this retracts all significance to our problems, our beliefs, our existence, is something we can never know for certain.
The penultimate track, The Best Selling Show, phases in almost parody-like with its traipsing melody, as if in response to the unanswered questions of the previous track. The track bubbles along in a footwork-style texture, shuffling forward with rhythmic intent. The final track of the album, Falling, presents a suitably blissful epilogue. The explicitness of the female vocal (courtesy of Emme), adds a human connection that is submerged and otherwise non-existent throughout the album, and its warm embrace is a catharsis we are desperately in need of. The beautifully simple lyric “Falling” is all we need to make some understanding of the journey we have just undertaken; the whole experience is actually quite emotional. Despite the morbidly austere subject matter, Falling presents us a comforting conclusion, not so much optimistic as it is self-aware, self-accepting.
(Stream ‘Churches, Schools And Guns – Remixed’ using the playlist above)
Prior to the release of the LP, Stroboscopic Artefacts put out a collection of remixes back in January. Suitably hyping up the album release (which dropped on 17th February), the four track EP can act as a stand-alone release in and of itself. On remix duties are a solid selection of artists: Shapednoise, Donato Dozzy, Milton Bradley, and Eomac. The Catch Twenty Two remix by Shapednoise remains faithful to the original, but injects it with some added fire to create an emphatic noise collage with awe-some distortions and more oppressive contours. Donato Dozzy’s remix of The Illusion Of Choice ticks along meditatively, building up into an epic journey of organic drums and searching synths. Arguably the strongest of the remixes, Dozzy magically transforms the militant original into a deep, meandering expedition through the undergrowth. Very much like Shapenoise’s offering, Bradley’s remix offers another facet of the original, choosing to keep many of the same characteristics. However Bradley switches it down a couple of levels, taking away the upfront rush of the original, and transforms it into a dark labyrinthine excursion. Finally, Eomac’s interpretation builds on the original Self As Another, and warps it into something more unhinged. Its disjointed drums and phased distortions create a chaotic ambience that is later disrupted by an interlude of introspective Burial-esque syntax. Above are full-length versions of the EP to listen to.
The mastering of the album (as with all Stroboscopic Artefacts releases) was done by formidable techno duo Dadub – as ever, a markedly masterful imprint on the album. Overall the album is a provocative and conceptually sound musical work, a work that digs deep to explore sound in a most sincere way. The album delivers on punch, but in less conventional ways, and is wonderfully unpredictable. Where we have more obvious outbursts such as Laws And Habits and The Illusion of Choice (the latter, perhaps crucially, is the only obtrusive track in this sense), the album as a whole really comes to represent sound-art more than anything that is dance-floor functional, though incidentally many tracks would act as great set openers or closers. Interestingly, dubstep and low-freq influences are clear in Lucy’s work, and though these genres are in some ways closely related to techno, the are usually found under separate flags and factions.
Emotive in sometimes the most abstract ways, the album is fully expressive nonetheless. All of the tracks lean towards meticulous sound design, including the little nuances like the samples of the Buddhist drones and the gun-shell sample. Churches, Schools And Guns really is a great listen, especially if you want to spend a solid hour really going in deep, though admittedly we do not see any stand-out tracks that are particularly exceptional here – the album works more as a cohesive whole. Where too similar a comparison may be made with his first album, Wordplay For Working Bees, the LP does show how Lucy has refined his production. The possible connections we can make with the subject matter of this album make listening to music like this so entertaining and engaging. It can’t be helped to view this LP as a statement, no matter how conscious or unconscious; a commentary on where we’re at, one man’s perception of the outside. In today’s world we can already see the cracks, the festering decay on not just the economical plane, but sociological, political, and ideological ones too; the answers are always in the art.