Ron Morelli: Heart Stopper

Thirteen years ago, DJ and producer Ron Morelli began releasing records by friends and neighbors like Delroy Edwards and Traxx, quickly establishing a very New York take on Detroit techno and Chicago house. Their residue was both greasier and grittier than neighbors like disco gentrifiers DFA; he called his label Long Island Electrical Systems, like a Kraftwerk on the Atlantic. Since then, a variety of renaissances in New York dance music have brought L.I.E.S.’ brand of rough-and-tumble rhythm-making in and out of fashion, but its vision has remained steadfast, even as Morelli himself ditched Brooklyn for Paris a decade ago. L.I.E.S. hasn’t released much of Morelli’s own music over the years, but number 200 is all his own, and it’s a treat. Heart Stopper shakes off the usual L.I.E.S foggy grayscale and turns on some flickering neon. It’s a bouncy beast.

“House Music Revenge” announces Morelli’s shift: A kind of fanfare reverses endlessly backwards; a sample of what sounds like someone saying “woo-hoo” stacks on top of itself, the way an infectious exclamation moves through a crowd; and a nice little package of kicks and clacks invokes a friendly night of dancing. “Rule Is to Survive” is also propulsively reversed, with dry snares and cymbals straining against a tide of thick mid-range gurgles and moans and whispers. The drums win on “Tricks of the Trade (Dub),” a tom-tom workout that succumbs to the pleasure of a well-engineered kick drum and a handclap with a bit of echo. Sometimes the simplest beats are the sharpest, and this one cuts deep. “Gun Smoke” is also tough, although less spaghetti-western aria and more laser-beam residue; its forceful patterns of snare drum and sequencer keep rearranging themselves, occasionally shuddering into fractal takes on four-on-the-floor. But the blustering “Subway Shootout” wins the day, spraying percussion around with wild precision, as if Morelli was playing Duck Hunt with the drum machines.

Vocals are welcome. With its cowbell baubles and call-and-response stabs, “Another Old Beat Track” butches up a Bobby O-style beat by pitching it way down, like the Pet Shop Boys’ “Love Comes Quickly” but not quick at all, and intoxicated but maybe not exactly in, like, love. The singer of “Tangle Trap of Love” feels something. Maybe everything. “All our emotions are caught up,” he moans, his voice in pain and delight. The metallic percussion almost swings, but the steely bassline keeps things caged up, even as the keyboards swan around in echoes of the deadly serious, preposterous glamor of the Liquid Sky clubs. House ghosts anchor the deep and creepy “Time Stands Still,” but they also haunt it: Slips of melody poke through the fog like fingers pulling upon a curtain, show their face as piano-house riffs, then disappear as suddenly as they came. A voice chants distortedly about reality and escape and someone strikes first a prefab tabla sound, then a shivery maybe-marimba, gesturing at a transcendence that never comes.

Or maybe that’s the old style. Morelli closes with “Natural Deaths,” a mid-tempo sparkler closer to the sweeter side of bittersweet than most anything he’s previously released. Droplets of goth guitar threaten to storm, but settle into a cozy pitter-patter gently softening the drum machines. “Ron’s Torture” is similarly comfortable in its sad-sack skin, dressed up in long cloaks of melancholy synths. But the title track is the ultimate treat, a stiff cocktail of filtered congas and chimes on the rocks. There’s a bit of “Big Fun,” a bit of “Testone”; there’s a sense of the radio mixes beaming west from Chicago’s WBMX radio station in the 1980s meeting the rave pirate broadcasts beaming west from the UK and settling into the petroleum used to make Morelli’s records in New York City. This is no nostalgia trip, though. It’s the longtime L.I.E.S. vibe: not looking back, but looking over its shoulders, relentlessly moving on.