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CD Feature/ The Black Dog: "Further Vexations"

img  Tobias

The Black Dog are furious, mad as hell and „pissed off“. Even though there are neither vocals, spoken word contributions nor Tony Blair samples on „Further Vexations“, its titles speak books about their view on the state of the nation: „CCTV“ cameras are keeping an ever-watching eye on an „un-democratic surveillance society“. „Stempel“ (stamps) are sealing the surrender of souvereignity to Brussels. And the band are „Haunted“ by its government „selling off precious national industries and assets at next to bargain basement prices“ and „indulging itself with two utterly pointless wars which it couldn't afford“. If electronic music, for much of the past fifteen years, represented an anaemic oasis of love, sex and indifference, it has surely risen to a revolutionary cry by now.

It is all the more astounding, then, that their artistic reponse“ has turned out anything but a dark, downbeat or depressed work. In stark contrast to most of mainland Europe, where political messages are supposed to be wrapped in stern and serious sonic garment, England has a long tradition of either coating them with sugar or channeling the fury in outbursts of pure energy. The latter appears to be the direction on this occasion. For all its futuristic echoes, mechanically rattling machineries and metallic pulse, „Further Vexations“ is dominated by sweet melodies and virulently contageous themes, by sensual harmonies and a physical propulsion second to none. Tiny chirps and tender tweets are polyrhythmically sewn into the fabric of the grooves, as though an army of robotic insects were dancing to the drum of an android drill instructor. On „We Are Haunted“, The Black Dog sound naive and playful at the same time, following a joyous tune to wherever it may take them. If this is a call for arms, it is a both endearing and entrancing one.

Ever since Kraftwerk erected their virtual „Computer World“, obsessed with numbers, electricity and dehumanised abbreviated institutions, Electro has become the preferred genre for artists dealing with topics extending beyond the intellectual black hole of the Love Parade – possibly, because the combination of cool timbres and a wide emotional palette creates the ideal canvas for painting an adequate picture of modern society. Even though „Further Vexations“ opens with a fresh stab at the genre and a kind of afterthought to their atmospheric „Train by the Autobahn“ two-parter off previous full-length „Radio Scarecrow“, they show no intention whatsoever of trivially repeating the trick. Instead, the album is informed by a plethora of styles and influences, including Minimal, Techno, Trance and even Sound Art, blending the ingredients into an intoxicating and seamless style.

Especially the opening quartet of tracks, including anthemic floorfiller „You're Only SQL“ and the uplifting psychedelic bliss of „0093“, exercise an irresistible pull, before the album launches into a middle section composed of pieces defined by swiftly changing moods and deadly effective transformations of seemingly simple ideas into ecstatic hymns. Even though the dancefloor is never far off, the production is just as much geared towards headphone consumption. Sounds are colourful, textures deep, arrangements continuously surprising and on the spacious „Northern Electronic Soul“ trilogy, the band achieve a homogeneous splits between delicate electronica, physical urgency, nocturnal eroticism and tantalising optimism.

Just when you thought you had the record figured out, however, „Further Vexations“ drastically changes its course in the final compositions. In fact, the last half hour of the album constitutes an EP's worth of material in its own right, built around layers of Ambient pastures, pastoral drones, pearly sequencer lines and slow-burning percussion. Cooling down the white-hot temper of the opening section, pieces like „Later Vexations“ or the imposing closer „Kissing Someone Else's D.O.G.“ embrace the listener with soothing tones and immersive atmospherics. It is a completely unexpected move,  breaking the carefully established web of interconnected beats from the beginning. On the other hand, it is also the moment when „Further Vexations“ turns from being a mere collection of tracks into a veritable musical journey, when all sense of time and space is lost and the music washes the listener away like a warm torrential river.

Some may be surprised as to how this consoling and reconsiled ending fits in with the politics of the album. Isn't this harmonious conclusion contradicting the supposed rage? Perhaps. Then again, that may just be the point: The Black Dog are not just voicing their discontent, they're also offering an alternative vision, where discordant opinions are not just wiped away with the broom of authority but integrated into a wider context with great attention and  utmost respect. Strongly disagreeing with the decisions of the leading caste is always fueled by a desire for a better world, after all. And trying to describe it with all the means at your disposal doesn't mean you can't be furious, mad as hell and pissed off, too.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: The Black Dog
Homepage: Soma Records

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