The shapeshifting electronic outfit reach new peaks with these dark and dangerous soundscapes
If any pioneers of the inappropriately named IDM genre have retained their identity and upheld the quality of their output, it’s surely The Black Dog.
First with the assistance of Ed Handley and Andy Turner during the group’s Warp years, later with Martin and Richard Dust from Dust Science Recordings, Ken Downie has kept The Black Dog on its dark path throughout, ever-revising the project by cross-pollinating the best that hip hop, jungle and electronica had to offer without ever submitting to populism. By the time those genres had become saturated via the usual crude attempts to wedge them into the mainstream, Downie had left them for dead.
Therein lay The Black Dog’s ability to shapeshift through the past two decades. Their dense, non-figurative sound became increasingly emboldened by political cynicism on albums such as ‘Further Vexations’. No need for lyrics, the music crackled and sandblasted the listener enough. It’s therefore of little surprise that in 2015, with corruption and misinformation never more prevalent in society, Downie and the Dust boys’ latest expedition is no less bristling with abrasive attitude.
Dangerous times call for dangerous music. So with ‘Neither/Neither’, The Black Dog’s antidote is to furnish us with an auditory overload of subliminal messaging via some pretty haunting post-apocalyptic soundscapes. The opening ‘Non Linear Information Life’ shudders as a cold wind blows menacingly across a scorched land before blending into the nihilistic radio chatter of ‘Phil 3 To 5 To 3’.
By comparison, the earthy beats of the title track puncture the dusky mood, the melodic bass grooves swelling and uplifted by journeying, seductive-sounding synths. ‘Them (Everyone Is A Liar But)’ is meanwhile surprisingly softened, its bubbling patterns overlapping with an optimistic verve. The gates are then slammed shut with renewed gusto on the grinding, mechanised faux-techno of ‘Shut Eye’, but The Black Dog expertly toy with our emotions once again, transferring oppression for emancipation with the beautifully subtle melodies of ‘The Frequency Ov Thee Truthers’.
For The Black Dog, anything resembling stasis is simply an act of preparation, as ‘Self Organising Sealed Systems’ changes the album’s direction and embarks on a series of industrialised club bangers. This almost sounds like a call to arms, with the insistent and bruising ‘Commodification’ being the commander in the trench. Elsewhere, ‘Platform Lvl 6’ threatens to erupt into hands-in-the-air rave territory, but intellectual restraint always reins in any impulse to overindulge.
On ‘Neither/Neither’, The Black Dog deliver the complete package. Absorbing, refining and honing everything they have come to stand for over the past 20 years, the album is a wholly impressive amalgam of explorative yet finely tuned ideas, resulting in what is arguably the group’s most involving and entertaining work to date.