VA, Initial Release: Surgery Compilation 01
Released: March 2001
A few years ago, when I was just starting to learn
about electronic music, I read a review of a work by a New Zealand
artist named Aspen. The review showered acres of praise on this artist
and his music, and I was immediately possessed with the desire to get
this disk. It wasn't available in the United States, however, or in
Canada, or the UK, or Germany, or anywhere (it seemed) except New
Zealand. So I emailed the artist, Bevan Smith. I told him I had read
a review of his work and wanted to hear it; did he, I asked, know where
I could buy it. The next day, I got a response: Smith not only offered
to send me his record himself, but he sent me two copies, one for
myself and one to give to someone else.
If you are reading this, you probably know about Aspen--it's a familiar name in the IDM world. Most of you probably own a copy of his self-titled debut, which was eventually released in the United States and elsewhere, or one of his subsequent works (his music keeps getting better and better). This little anecdote has nothing to do with any of that music, but I thought it was worth mentioning to give you some background on the kind of person Bevan Smith is. More than that, I thought it was a good anecdote to introduce many of you to a disk that has been floating around for about a year now, but which (as far as I can tell) has not yet received the kind of notoriety that it deserves. It's a compilation released by Surgery Records, the Australian label that released Aspen's Are You That Retail Snob? In many ways, this disk reflects the kind of friendliness, warmth, and generosity that I received from Bevan Smith in his kind gesture.
Imagine that you own a record label and you want to create a compilation that lifts some of the best music created by some of the most inventive artists from all over the world. Imagine further that, upon receiving all this great music and compiling it onto a two-CD collection, you are startled to realize that everything here--every single song--blends together so nicely that, if you didn't know better, you'd think one artist created it all. That's Initial Release: Surgery Compilation 01, one of the finest collections of electronic music you'll find anywhere.
The artists here come from all over the world. As the press release states, "The compilation takes its sounds from (among other places) Australia, Canada, New Zeland, America, the UK, Finland, Russia and Alaska." The artists are a combination of the well-known (Aspen, Lackluster, Fizzarum, Unagi Patrol, Jet Jaguar, and K-Rad) and the less known (Cornelius W, Pretty Boy Crossover, Mitchell Akiyama, Duann, and Vim!). But as with the best of electronic music, neither the artists' nor their countries of origin are important; only the music counts. And the music here, although never overtly original or truly startling in form or content, nevertheless retains a consistency and a listenability that makes the work as a whole far stronger than its individual parts.
What do I mean? Well, there are IDM staple sounds throughout--drones, digital clicks, deep, pulsing bass thumps--sounds you've heard on all the music released by Merck, Morr, Kracfive, Mille Plateaux, Worm Interface, Warp, Rephlex, etc. There's nothing here that you haven't heard a thousand times. Vim!'s "Thin Strips of You," for example, has the bouncy bass mixed with the crunchy glitches and the soft, lilting synth wail that I've heard on a hundred different songs over the past few years. It's a good song, but it's nothing too original or startlingly brilliant. I can say the same thing for just about every song on these disks. Aspen's song sounds like Aspen's other songs; Jet Jaguar's songs sounds like Jet Jaguar; heck, K-Rad even sounds like K-Rad! There's nothing wrong with any of these songs--they're all solid, listenable, and enjoyable. They're just not brilliant.
But somehow, together, these individual tracks, which are good but not great, manage to become brilliant, inventive, and startling when brought together. How? Perhaps it's a combination of 27 good songs all being collected together on two disks, rather than (as usually happens on compilations) 10 good songs, 5 average songs, and 5 worthless songs. Consistency does matter, after all. But this compilation's consistency is also evident in the music, which (as I said earlier) is so cohesive that it sounds as though one artist created the whole thing. And that, I think, is what makes this collection superior to other collections. Few "Various Artist" releases are worth listening to all the way through. Even my favorite compilation albums of recent years, the Clicks and Cuts series, include a few clunkers. There are no clunkers here, just great music by great artists.
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