Back in ’89, when Black Dog were breaking beats, they cut a track called ‘Ambience With Teeth’, which wasn’t ambient music, and nicked Stevie Wonder’s keyboard riff from ‘I Wish’. Now, this new album fulfils the promise of that title.
Perhaps this is a dig at Eno’s fluffy ambience, the dreamy nature of which could considered less appropriate post-9/11. That’s not to say I think that Ken Downie and Richard and Martin Dust have made a statement regarding today’s potential for terror in the skies. Yet, as the title states, this take on the airport experience does reflect reality and there’s something of the dread, rather than the dream, about it’s generally sombre tone.
When they do use beats they’re underpinned by dark drones as if to mirror both the thrill of high-powered propulsion and the fear it can induce. ‘Future Delay Thinking’ exemplifies the idea that the inherently futuristic concept of modern flight is tinged with dark foreboding – as if we might ask of all this technology “It’s a thrill, but is it right?” When Eno painted his sonic portrait of the airport, those good old days of flying were, for most of us, terror-free, and guilt-free regarding the environment.
With titles such as ‘Wait Behind This Line’, ‘Sleep Deprivation’ and ‘Strip Light Hate’, you get the message. Arriving at the sombre beauty of ‘Wait Behind This Line’, I begin to see airport regulatory control as a symbol of state/social control in some way. Whatever the intent, it makes for an intriguing listening experience, and not always as predictable as each title suggests. You might expect ‘Delay 9’, for instance, to translate into anger and frustration, but here the dreaded message is interpreted with a poignant reverie featuring strings and background chatter.
Black Dog have travelled a long way from breakbeat and techno to arrive at a place that’s not easily categorised musically, which suits the neither-here-nor-there nature of airports perfectly. It is ‘ambient’ but also edgy, just as to fly can be exciting and dull.
Airports may be, as JG Ballard suggested, ‘gateways to the infinite possibilities that only the sky can offer’, but Black Dog echo the earth-bound experience, whilst still allowing our imagination to fly free.