Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Review: The Black Dog - Liber Dogma
Oh yes. After reviewing a whole bunch of respectably boring techno, I was beginning to lose faith in the genre. Leave it to an old dog to teach the new kids how to do a dancefloor techno album properly. Liber Dogma shits all over every straight-up techno album I've heard this year, and it comes from some of the oldest heads in the business. The Black Dog shouldn't really need any introduction, as they're one of the very first British acts to do techno, they released on Warp back in the glory days and they've enjoyed a real resurgence in the last few years. Last year's Music For Real Airports was a bit of a career high, a conceptual ambient record inspired by innumerable frustrating hours spent in airports that registered well with everyone. In light of that, the return to heads-down techno is a bit of a surprise, but the Black Dog have always been primarily a techno act and perhaps they were getting frustrated with everyone else getting it wrong.
Firstly, they know that an album is meant to be listened to in one sitting, and they actually compose tracks especially to be heard in that context. What this means is no full-length club cuts with dreary extended lead-ins and outs that just bog down the record. The tracks on Liber Dogma all segue into each other seamlessly, sounding more like a DJ set or live show. And basically, that's a good thing. You can still mix all of these tracks, especially if you're as inventive as any good techno DJ should be. Techno is a dancefloor genre, and any dancefloor genre sounds best when played as it would be heard on a dancefloor. It's such a simple concept, yet so few artists seem to realise.
It's not just that they cut out the downtime either. Liber Dogma actually has a direction and a structure as a listening experience. It starts off with sparkly melodic elements that have long been a feature of The Black Dog's techno productions. Dave Wave Creeping is a fantastic opening track, with an enormous bassline, and the opening run of tracks flows seamlessly. Then midway through the melodic side drops away and we have ten or fifteen minutes of heads-down techno, before reaching a glorious Detroit-esque breakdown in Hype Knot 7, which is classic Black Dog through and through. Then it's back into the no-nonsense club grooves. The flow of this record really is beautifully weighted, and it's a classic example of how proper contextualisation can get maximum effect from tracks. Although there are a hatful of fantastic stand-alone tracks on this album (Dark Wave Creeping, Eden 353, Black Maria, etc. etc.) there are also a lot of tracks that would be considered "filler" if they weren't deployed in a way that added momentum and contrast in the right places.
Plenty of techno producers have made great albums by going extremely ambient or textural or conceptual, but it's pretty rare to hear an album that really delivers danceable techno you can still listen to at home and enjoy. With Liber Dogma the Black Dog have absolutely nailed it, and all the pretenders need to tune in and start taking notes.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 9/10