After the demise of the original Black Dog trio, Ken Downie seemed to retreat into his shell. As Andy Turner and Ed Handley continued to take plaudits with their work as Plaid, Downie all but disappeared after his 1996 Warp album Music for Adverts. The lay off continued for the best part of a decade. Then in 2005, he tentatively re-emerged with some releases on Martin and Richard Dust’s Dust Science Recordings. These seemed to find him re-energised, and the Black Dog was a trio again, with the Dusts joining him for last year’s superb Radio Scarecrow. It was a fantastic comeback, but few would have bet that the follow-up would have arrived just twelve months down the line, nor that it would be even better.
Like its predecessor, Further Vexations runs as one long mix. Like the best mixes, it has peaks and troughs in mood and tempo. And like the very best mixes, it has none in quality. Broadly speaking, it can be divided into three sections. The first half dozen tracks are generally club friendly, bright and often tip a knowing wink to their influences. You can hear Kraftwerk in opener “Biomantric L-if-e”, Detroit in “0093”, FSOL in the interlude “Phil: Because Ov, Indeed”, classic acid in “You’re Only SQL”, bleep era Warp in “We Are Haunted” and even lush progressive house in “CCTV Nation”.
The middle section, clustered around the three-part suite “Northern Electronic Soul”, is more organic. The suite itself has a jazzy r ‘n’ b echo that mirrors Kirk Degiorgio’s As One project. It’s as mellow as a warm summer’s evening. “Skin Clock” widens this out into something almost euphoric, with a poppy, melodic feel undercut with fiendishly complex rhythms.
The final quartet plunge the album deep into the realms of nightmares. These are probably the darkest pieces that Downie has ever come up with. The sinister undercurrents of “Dada Mindstab” are fuelled by the samples of marching calls that sound more like a gang than an army. The threat of violence erupts with “Tunnels Ov Set”, which shakes with pounding sub-bass and stuttering, crunching beats, almost disintegrating under its own gravity. The final two pieces journey through melancholia, to deep ambient darkness.
1995’s Spanners was a benchmark album. It was the last by the original trio, but was their creative zenith, and one of the finest albums that Warp has ever put out. At the time the world was distracted by the primary coloured parody of Englishness otherwise known as Britpop. Recently both Uncut and Mojo seem intent on resurrecting those ‘heady’ days, but this is a very different nation to the self-confident one of 1994. Further Vexations taps into an alternative view of the era – the warm introspection of IDM, the dystopia of Techno Animal, but also the communal power of arena techno acts like Orbital and Underworld. It’s much much more than the sum of its influences. This is music that casts many a glance to the past, but still sounds like the future.
1 Biomantric L-if-e (5:13)
2 0093 (4:34)
3 Phil: Because Ov, Indeed (0:46)
4 You’re Only SQL (4:57)
5 We Are Haunted (4:00)
6 CCTV Nation (4:59)
7 Stempel (4:35)
8 Northern Electronic Soul [Part 1] (2:53)
9 Northern Electronic Soul [Part 2] (3:24)
10 Northern Electronic Soul [Part 3] (4:51)
11 Skin Clock (6:03)
12 Dada Mindstab (5:10)
13 Tunnels Ov Set (5:11)
14 Later Vexations (6:24)
15 Kissing Someone Else’s D.O.G (5:24)