Artist: Minotaur Shock Album: Amateur Dramatics Label: 4AD Release Date: Out Now, Download Only Link: http://www.minotaurshock.com/ Four Tet's Pause is probably the first classic electronica album of the naughties, but he wasn't the only artist of his kind who turned to folky pastoralism at the start of the millennium. Setting up an unlikely, verdant idyll in the heart of Manchester's urban sprawl were Melodic Records, but while most of their plucked acoustic 'folktronica' bands came to nothing, Minotaur Shock, AKA Dave Edwards, thrived. He built on his 2001 debut, Chiff-Chaffs and Willow Warblers with dogged remix work and soundtracking duties, leading to critical success and a signing with major label 4AD. Maritime, released in 2005, was a triumph; jaunty, cheerful and shamelessly enjoyable ditties that captured perfectly the feeling of a cartoonish trip across the waves, boat skipping merrily along under the rowing of a large, bearded captain dressed head to toe in bright yellow waterproofs. Now Minotaur Shock returns, with a new website and album. It might seem strange to mention a new website at this point, but to Edwards, Amateur Dramatics is not an album, it is 'content.' As he explains eloquently in a short essay on said website, 4AD decided that a physical release would be too much of a risk for them in this economic climate and offered instead the chance of a well funded, well marketed digital release. But, rather than the honesty box approach of Radiohead, Edwards has applied a rigorous pricing policy to each individual track based on it's replay value, enjoyment factor, use of guest musicians and a number of other variables. The website thus becomes a great addition to the music, as reading the charming track breakdowns offers a window into the process, and an amusingly scientific approach to something so emotional as music. It is slightly absurdist that one track can be deemed to be worth a few pence more than another, when their impact on an individual would be utterly incomparable. Putting this pricing experiment to one side, what is the album actually like? Well, it essentially hits a pleasant middle ground between the natural sounds of Chiff-Chaffs... and the dynamic synthesiser action of Maritime. As always, Minotaur Shock's compositions are catchy and immediate, but also tightly controlled and cleverly pieced together. There is a DIY, home made, kitchen sink aesthetic to the whole thing, but he still manages to draw from a grand, cinematic canvas, and captures the sound of travelling across large spaces. This could happily soundtrack a long car journey, an international flight, or even a long, brisk walk. 'Zookeeper,' (50p) and 'AmDram' (54p) kick things off with urgent, jerky, dramatic keyboard and horn riffs and sweeping strings floating around on top. They play with dynamics, dropping instruments then adding more, tempos changing to keep things fresh. 'This Plane is Going to Fall' (66p) is slower, adding a drooping, sighing female vocal which blisses out a rubbery disco beat, creating a reflective mood. Later, 'Jason Forrest' (54p) begins with horns and snatches of ambience falling together, snapping into a stomping beat that hints at Justice-like electro chrome before adding all sorts of pounding counter rhythms to the mix. There's even a smidgen of indie guitar strumming at the end, showing Edwards' mastery of a range of instruments, and a freedom in their use that would envy his peers. 'BATS' (55p) offers fractured, fuzzing, clicking and sinister machine music, while 'Buzzards' (71p) gives us a stately string elegy and shuffling clicks which segues nicely into another excellent horn and synth riff. This gives a clue to the one significant criticism I can level at this album. There is variety here, but the overall impression is of background music. Very, very good background music, but Amateur Dramatics definitely works best as a casual listen. This is neither the most complex, nor the most impressive electronica, and no one track really stands out strongly. As such, the pricing experiment is, apart from the lovely website and the novelty of it all, somewhat of a failure; what's the point of charging such specific individual prices for tracks when the album works best as a whole? Maybe that's intentional, and this is, perhaps, the real point. This is a very good record though. A simple and humble album, but definitely a very good one. Once again Edwards has furnished us with a quality selection of catchy tunes that are perfect to stick on and enjoy when more demanding music feels like way too much effort. For that, Amateur Dramatics (£6.41) deserves a legacy beyond notoriety for it's method of release.