Scacco Matto – Italian for ‘check mate’ – is Italian producer Lorenzo Senni‘s third record, and it’s a tricky one. An intense, “pointillistic trance” record (Senni’s own words), it offers the listener an exhausting, exhaustive journey through a kaleidoscopic, hyper-saturated mind.
Scacco Matto is a rare beast, in that it offers both cerebral and guttural thrills in equal measure. That should be no surprise, especially seeing as it’s coming out on Warp, who have a reputation for that kind of thing, but it also shouldn’t be a surprise with even the most cursory listen to Senni’s back catalogue. Where his first and second albums, Quantum Jelly and Superimpositions, glistened and glittered with ferocious focus, Scacco Matto just ups the ante to ecstatic levels. Senni is also notorious for avoiding the key facets of trance – the ‘drop’, the pounding kick drums, the wigged-out crescendos.
Across Scacco Matto’s eight tracks, Senni covers almost the entire history of electronic dance music. Opener Discipline Of Enthusiasm is absolutely relentless, reminiscent of final boss battles on classic arcade games. The sense of tension and anticipation is carefully nurtured and built over the course of the track, reaching an almost unbearable level of tension.
XBreakingEdgeX, the second track, switches up the mood. It’s a slice of clear-headed, glitchy trance that uses Euro-disco and reggae rhythms, gated and chopped up beyond all recognition. Move In Silence (Only Breath When It’s Time to Say Check Mate) follows more recognisable rock dynamics, with the pounding lower-frequency sequence acting as the rhythmic underpinning to the track. It’s a more conventional track than the two openers, and it suffers as a result, due to the missing intensity.
Canone Infinito is both the centrepiece and the highlight of the album. Clearly Senni’s favourite composition (he sent it as a musical greeting card to music writers), it benefits from a clear-minded focus. Constructed from ambient and Ambient sounds, it plays out like a Brian Eno composition run through Justice software. It’s soothing and calming, and offers a moment of introspection on an overtly extrovert record. The second half of the album offers much of the same excitement of the first. There are heavy rhythms, polished-chrome melody lines, chirping video game noises, and an almost cinematic widescreen appeal.
However, there is one single problem with this record that must be addressed – and that’s the question of who this is for. Is it the reluctant raver, content to get high at home? Is it for the caffeine-fuelled night owl, up until dawn playing video games in the dark? Is it the gym-going trance-monkey, pumped up on fake tan and fit to burst from his smedium shirt? Who knows, it could be all of them. But it certainly does lack an identifiable audience, and its lack of crossover appeal might be a hindrance.
This is a strong record, and one made with a singular artistic focus. Senni clearly knows what he likes, and he does it incredibly well. But whether that’s enough to entice new listeners is a tricky proposition, especially as it feels as though this is an album out of time. If it had hit the shelves at the same time as the French electronic artists were riding high on every Myspace playlist, it would have been a smash. As it is, it remains an acquired taste.
Special mention must be made of the cover art. The cover of Scacco Matto is a photograph from John Divola’s Zuma series (1977). It marks the second time that one of his photographs of burnt out, spray-painted seaside shacks have been used as album covers – the first was on Deerhunter‘s near-perfect dream-pop album Fading Frontier, and this is the second. While the two records couldn’t sound more dissimilar, what they do with the Divola art is fascinating.
On Deerhunter’s cover, they use a symmetrical, forward-facing shot, while on Senni’s, he uses a sky-facing, upwards aspect, and it is in these differences that we find the true nature of the music contained within: Deerhunter’s most comforting, level-headed music of their career is matched with an appropriate photograph, and Senni’s celestial, rocket-powered record is accompanied by a shot of the sky and the stars.