THE BLACK DOG Spanners (Warp)

It was supposed to be released last August and was rumoured to contain 28 tracks, but six months late and nine tunes lighter the second proper album from this three-headed techno collective has finally arrived, and although the sleeve’s mix of Egyptian, Greek and computer imagery might have you fearing some kind of "Stargate" soundtrack fiasco the reality is far pleasanter.

"Spanners" harks back to the breathless eclecticsm that haunted their "(Bytes)" compilation, even down to including tracks-between-the-tracks, here called "Bolts" (ha ha ha!). And like that album it has a tendency to sprawl unabated in a fashion that only really begins to make sense after repeated listenings, when highlights such as "Barbola Work", the ten minutes of Eastern-influenced

"Psil-Cosyin", the Orbital-esque dialogue sample musings on "Chase The Manhattan" and the plinky-plonky wonderfulness of "Pot Noodle" become apparent. What’s missing, perhaps, is the clarity of vision that marked out their debut album "Temple Of Transparent Balls", which has been substituted for a warmer, more approachable but ultimately more confusing approach. And there’s no real out-and-out stormers such as "Sharp Shooting On Saturn" or "3/4 Heart". Still, there’s more than enough for the committed Dog-owner to pore over for many long winter nights to come.


Released on the quiet with a complete absence of promotional trumpetry, "Parallel" appears to contain recordings made by the late, sporadically great, London-based techno trio around the time of their first album’s release in 1993 - at least, that’s what I can gather from the ‘whatever you say, say nothing’ sleevenotes. It certainly sounds like the chunky music they were making at the time, far less plinky-plonky and insubstantial than this year’s disappointing "Spanners" album, not as cerebral as that contained on the "(Bytes)" compilation. They call one track "Aural Wallpaper", and they’re absolutely right: they had evolved a sound that could happily shuffle around in the background, making the ideal freeze-dried soundtrack to suitably clinical and anodyne tasks like programming, yet could easily function as serious listening matter when required, especially when humanised with fiery gospel samples such as on "VIR2L". At their peak The Black Dog were about as intelligent as intelligent techno could ever hope, or want, to get, and they will be missed.

THE BLACK DOG Music For Adverts (And Short Films) (Warp)

It appears as though the three-headed beast that was The Black Dog, producers of some of the finest dance music money could buy, have split into fractions, with Ken Downie retaining the name and the recording contract and, uh, the two who aren’t Ken Downie forming Plaid (or possibly re-forming Plaid, as they are credited with "Object Orient" on 1993’s "(Bytes)" compilation, which is allegedly a collection of early Black Dog singles issued under various pseudonyms).

Anyway, "Music For Adverts (And Short Films)" is a 25-track double album that suggests, with its breathless eclecticism, that Downie was chiefly responsible for the way that The Black Dog’s music changed from the relatively uncomplicated meaty, beaty, big and bouncy thumptastic techno of the "Temple of Transparent Balls" album to the saturated-with-twiddliness over-egged pudding that last year’s over-hyped and over-indulgent "Spanners" proved to be. The sleeve, too, is riddled with the same kind of classical Greek and Egyptian imagery that its predecessor flaunted. The tunes veer wildly from the Barry-Adamson-in-space jazz of opener "Dumb & Dumber" to the lengthier and more traditional fare of "No Lamers" and "Euthanasia" and the mellower "Seti", which seems to have hijacked the scrambled radio static from the closing pages of The KLF’s proto-ambient-trance epic "Chill Out". What "Music For Short Films (And Adverts)" does have in common with much of The Black Dog’s previous output, however, is a naggingly antiseptic air, as if the melodies were being looked at through a microscope, that the progenitors of this kind of music (e.g. Kraftwerk, Eno) managed to avoid with a smattering of humour, self-mockery or irresistible knack with the poptastic. Still, three plays are hardly sufficient to unravel its many mysteries, but even at this early stage it’s obvious that if Kubrick had somehow engineered a supermarket into "2001", this is the muzak that would be playing in it.