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Lucy - Wordplay for Working Bees


Stroboscopic Artifacts

Luca Mortellaro’s striking debut album release on his own label is a nebulous affair, full of swirling, rugged hiss and disorientating thunder. Before you even start the music, the combination of title and label name conjure up a rich resonance – the metronomic beeping glow of a stroboscope contrasted against a cloudy insectoid hum.His label has in a short period of time established itself as a hallmark of covert hypnotic techno.

Composed of eleven tracks, it convulses and mutates in unexpected places, never quite settling down and leaving you disorientated at times. Fans of more linear techno will be left disappointed – indeed apart from a couple of mutated dancefloor tracks, there is little here that is aimed at the functional. Instead Wordplay is happy to snake its way through a dappled terrain of electrical hum and cyclical fizz, recalling the early releases of Mika Vainio at times. The accompanying sampled dialogue that you hear with several tracks has its roots in the more politicized electronic albums of the 80’s, recalling the likes of Jack Dangers, Jello Biafra or Mark Stewart.

Wordplay also steadfastly refuses to be chained down to one style, with Mortellaro happy to punctuate the narrative with ambient tracks, thus diffusing any sort of momentum.  Only towards the end does he introduce lighter elements, resulting in a vaguely cinematic finish to the album.

The track titles recall Autechre, never being more than five letters long and often looking as they’ve been dismembered with a scalpel.  Like them, there’s no doubting that the sound design at times on this album is of a high standard. In particular on the most visceral track “Lav”, colossal swathes of sound crash into one another with ferocity. It’s a compelling moment, but for all the energy created by it, there’s no move onto something else – in most instances on these tracks, by four minutes or so you’ve heard all you need to hear of the song and that compounds the problem for a further three or so.  The album ultimately lacks something more crucial, namely the ability to progress.  Many of the songs take a central idea or motif, yet fail to move onto something else during the composition. 

Furthermore, the addition of the aforementioned spoken word samples bring it down a notch, being superfluous to the music that they accompany.  These sound bolted on and clunky when you consider the singular lack of any other political aesthetic on the album.

Perhaps these are harsh criticisms. The rumbling nine minute epic that is “Bein” does to its credit manage to shrug off these criticisms just through its sheer bravura. This throbbing voyage of shuffling bass and simmering tension captivates throughout and it’s the strongest on the album. “Es” and “Ter” both showcase a more human, if somewhat distant, side to the compositions and “Torul” scuttles about in the darkness as if it were the soundtrack to a startled badger’s evening.

There is much to commend about Wordplay with Mortellaro’s ideas and sound design auguring well for future productions. His steadfast refusal to comply with some of the very rigid structures that many other techno producers still adhere to can only serve him well. As an album though, it’s difficult to come away from it without feeling that this is a canvas of various textures and ideas, rather than something more emphatic. 

Toby Frith

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