The Black Dog: Tranklements
Dust Science Recordings

Years ago, Ken Downie aligned with Ed Handley and Andy Turner to form Black Dog Productions before the two left to form Plaid. So it's hard to resist drawing comparisons between Plaid and The Black Dog, the latest incarnation featuring Downie plus Martin and Richard Dust (from Dust Science Recordings), and looking for connections between them. Tranklements, however, suggests that such an approach is misguided as the release succeeds perfectly well on its own terms and deserves to be broached as such.

Issued on Dust Science Recordings, Tranklements (a term, incidentally, that referes to a collection of oft-precious objects) is very much in the tradition, so to speak, of well-crafted electronic music (IDM if you prefer, even if the term is loathed in some quarters) in the classic Warp vein associated with an outfit like, yep, Plaid—something never more audible than in the album's penultimate track “Mind Object.” The release features sixteen tracks, with five miniatures, called “Bolts,” strategically positioned to aid or disrupt the transitions between the lengthier pieces.

After “Alien Boys” inaugurates the album on a somewhat low-key and brooding note, “Atavistic Resurgence” establishes Tranklements' general sound: polished in design and arrangement, the track undergirds its synthetic melodic flourishes with a tight (and typically tightly controlled) groove of clicking beats and bass throb. Equally rooted in melody and rhythm, The Black Dog's tracks have enough bounce and drive that they wouldn't sound out of place in a club setting, though they're hardly conceived exclusively for that context. Whether a short mechano vignette (“Bolt 3533f”) acid-house jam (“Pray Crash I”), or ponderous synthesizer-heavy meditation (“Spatchka”), they're clockwork jewels of construction and design that engage one's attention with their unusual noises and myriad twists.

The album's best ambassador is arguably “First Cut,” the longest cut at eight minutes but also one of the more rhythmically infectious of the sixteen. Its multi-tiered weave of woozy synth warble, bass undertow, and rattlesnake beats also nicely captures The Black Dog's production design skills in their fullest flower. And don't let an Autechre-styled track title like “Bolt11b3” throw you. Though the outfit's self-described “awkward outsiders” aren't so much interested in entertaining the listener so much as entertaining themselves, the group's music—at least the sixty minutes featured on Tranklements—is always eminently listenable and approachable.

May 2013