The Black Dog:Spanners

The Black Dog:Spanners
(Warp Music/EMI Music - 1995)

This little gem was one of the first purchases of my ambient quest and remains one of the best.

The CD consists of 19 tracks, though 7 of these are short "Bolts" usually less than 1 minute long. Incidentally, I've read that all sounds were created soley on Amiga computers.

Notable tracks include the opener, Raxmus, a mellow taste of things to come, beats over drifting synths. Then there's track 3, the frenetic Barbola Work, dominated by Latin-y percussion. It's sort of a Tropicana Techno flavor, too aggressive to be considered ambient, in my mind, but quite a nice little piece. Similarly, Psil-Cosyin's wildly changing styles make it another very busy tune, though its rambling nature doesn't appeal as strongly to me.

Chase the Manhattan opens with clicks, buzzes, a droll voice and then that wonderfully insistent rhythm kicks in. One of my favorite tracks, it is uptempo, but not overbearing. More voices appear, speaking of extraterrestrial things they've encountered.

Some of the other tracks, Tahr, Further Harm and the gently meandering Pot Noddle, for instance, are quite nice, but don't leave as strong an impression as the others. On the downside, I found Utopian Dream almost annoying.

Nommo, track 11, is my personal favorite. The beat is alive, in the foreground, while the background tones weave luxuriously through space and time. This is the song that truly sucked me into the world of ambient/techno.

The CD closes with the gorgeous Chesh, 6 minutes of soft, beautiful tones. The only song-length track devoid of computerized drumbeats, it sounds like a reverberating electric harp.

Overall, Spanners' mood is more light than dark. Electronic percussion rules nearly every track, but the beats are never simplistic, always interesting. The keyboards sound synthetic yet warm. The CD's sheer inventiveness make it a most worthy listen. Despite a couple of personal dislikes, I feel compelled to give this one Both Thumbs upward.
This review posted July 12, 1997

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