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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
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+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
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Double Figure

The Black Dog were among the earliest groups to espouse the form loosely known, for lack of a better term, as "intelligent techno." Beginning with the coveted "Virtual" EP on their own imprint in 1989, Ken Downie, Ed Handley and Andy Turner spent the better part of the next decade crafting jewel-toned breakbeat techno that broke away from the dance-floor haze of acid house. As Black Dog Productions, Balil, Parasight and other aliases, they released a stream of recordings for labels like Warp and GPR that seemed like fragments of some sonic Rosetta Stone, coded hints to an otherworldly musical language of analog squelch, tribal folk songs, and chamber arrangements.

The trio split after 1996's Music for Adverts, but Handley and Turner wasted no time in reviving their Plaid identity, which had entered BDP's collective identity with 1991's Mbuki Mvuki. On 1998's Not for Threes and 1999's Rest Proof Clockwork, the duo carried on the classic Black Dog sound, bringing to it a predilection for vibrant, glistening tones — Caribbean steel drums maintained an incongruous presence — and tracks cut so short they seemed almost like preludes.

But where those two records experimented with vocals and more pop-oriented songs (including contributions from Björk and Nicolette), Double Figure moves back toward more ambiguous terrain, one strewn with unfamiliar plants that don't readily reveal the buds hidden behind prickles and spines. It doesn't have anywhere near the complexity of Autechre's Confield — an album to which it's related in legacy, if not form — and it may take longer to appreciate Double Figure than Autechre's new album. There's something maddening in the way Plaid pairs an intricate, off-kilter rhythmic figure with fairly straight four-bar chord changes and synth tones that often sound like presets. Certainly, there are moments where they perfectly blend pop structure, rhythmic innovation and a keen ear for texture, as in the nostalgic refrain of "Assault on Precinct Zero." And the chattering, percussive rush of "Ooh Be Do" demonstrates that there are still remarkable organisms hiding along the overgrown, neglected paths in Autechre's backyard. But are the climbing arpeggios of the chiming "New Family" the most interesting melodic conceit they can come up with?

As it turns out, that's the wrong question to ask. For all their surface simplicity, the duo demand patience; they require a willingness to wait for the predictable forms to shift, subtly, just when your attention is about to slip. Plaid excel at the little moments where the music breathes — moments all too rare within the regularized patterns of most beat-oriented electronic music. Just consider the point a little past the four-minute mark in "New Family," when everything stops for the space of a pulse (there's a reason they call it a "beat" in acting). It's not so much a breakdown as a feint, a half-step to the side, marked by a single measure of percussive hesitation, before the song takes a headlong spin into a dizzy cascade of faraway vocals and goes spiraling deep into your consciousness. Such a little thing, but it's enough to color everything in a different light, and to show you a whole new way of listening.

by Philip Sherburne

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