The Black Dog: Neither/Neither
Dust Science Recordings

Yes, The Black Dog lives on, no less than twenty-six years after its first EP, The Age of Slack, surfaced in 1989. Of course The Black Dog of that early time was a different animal than the one operating today: as those conversant with IDM well know, the Sheffield-based group's initial lineup of Ken Downie, Ed Handley, and Andy Turner eventually fractured, with the latter two departing to form Plaid and Downie soldiering on with various Black Dog members until hooking up with Dust Science Recordings' Martin Dust and Richard Dust. And while The Black Dog has never quite achieved the high profile and critical appreciation that Handley and Turner have with Plaid, there's no question that Downie's project will form a significant part of IDM history when that particular book is written.

The trio's latest collection is pitched as “de-programming material,” and references to Burroughs, false prophets, and “(n)on-linear hypermedia systems” dot the Orwellian-tinged press release (sample line: “Falsehood becomes reason, no matter how ridiculous the proposition”). Certainly Downie et al. treat the thematic content with sincerity, judging by track titles such as “Control Needs Time” and “Hollow Stories, Hollow Head,” but being an instrumental album whatever conceptual conceits are in play on Neither/Neither can be indulged or ignored, depending on one's mood or inclination. That being said, it's possible to hear the album as a never-used soundtrack for Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 when the themes of the album and film dovetail so naturally.

On purely musical grounds, the fifteen-track set plays like a summative overview of the group's history, with atmospheric interludes, voice-laden collages, pretty synth-heavy reveries, and skewed IDM-techno cozily juxtaposed throughout the fifty-six-minute recording. The group members prove themselves repeatedly to be seasoned sound sculptors, experts at arranging melodic and rhythmic elements into commanding wholes. “Non Linear Information Life” introduces the album with a brooding ambient overture whose claustrophobic tone is reflective of the crippled intellectual state within the album's societal portrait. But however bleak the conceptual content might be, it can be shrugged off when the group rolls out dynamic, beat-driven thumpers such as “Control Needs Time,” “Self Organising Sealed Systems,” “Them (Everyone is a Liar But),” and “MK Ultrabrite.” In such cases, kinetic grooves and pulsing bass lines give the material enough oomph and momentum to ease the mental burden and displace one's focus away from whatever thematic gloom enshrouds the material.

September 2015