Surgeon, Breaking The Frame

[Dynamic Tension Records]

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A new Surgeon album should be an event; not only does the man carry enough of a deserved reputation in techno, but he also hasn’t had one for 11 years. Yet Breaking The Frame seemed to come out of nowhere, sneaking its way into shops after a brief and abrupt announcement sparing little in the way of details. What’s even more unusual is the music etched into the grooves itself. If you’ve been following Surgeon lately, you might expect an album of chiseled and barreling techno like his last Dynamic Tension single. Instead, his recent Fabric mix CD is probably a better reference point, with his new album celebrating the disintegration and detonation of rhythm rather than a steady pulse.

Fabric 53 had Anthony Child enmesh dubstep-leaning rhythms in with his usual techno in a more seamless way than ever, and the sound of Child’s marble techno monstrosities grappling with the cyclical percussion and serpentine melodies of producers like Starkey and Ital Tek was thrilling to say the least. This dynamic emerges as the unevenly beating heart of Breaking The Frame, a difficult album that lives up to its title’s promise of deconstruction and paradigm shifting. Child prefers to deal in Autechre-style abstraction on tracks like the alternately confounding and punishing “RADIANCE,” where an impatient beat flagellates itself into white noise as synth flurries coalesce into a blinding sandstorm around it. Elsewhere, he prefers wandering, meandering structures: the winding bass lines and nimble percussion of opener “Transparent Radiation” and “The Power of Doubt” are redolent of Shackleton infiltrating the headiest moments of Surgeon’s last album, Body Request, displacing the techno pulse with an uncertain dread sourced from the dingiest corners of late 70’s Sheffield.

Breaking The Frame seems to tap into the same troubled mindset as Perc’s Wicker & Steel, with both albums exploring the harder side of post-millennial techno through a lens of early industrial and dark electronic. “The Power of Doubt” is nudged along by creeping synth strings, a macabre-tinged touch that envelops the rest of the album in the form of silvery drones and metallic creaks. Child’s sound palette, furthermore, is simply unexpected; the cavalcade of plucked strings that tickle the listlessly pounding thump of “Presence” quickly become a sort of aural terrorism device as they bunch up into volleys of high-frequency sound. The curious and instantly recognizable frantic rattle of drill-n-bass rules the nearly freeform “Remover of Darkness,” oddly enough, collapsing and colliding in true 90’s Brutalist style.

Surgeon saves the requisite chugging techno workout for the album’s closing minutes, “Those Who Do Not” breaking out into blistering 4/4 in a moment of extremely delayed gratification. But even there the kick drum sounds oddly muted, trying to break through a swamp of blackened muck, with confusion and obfuscation becoming the album’s defining characteristic. It’s a mixed blessing: Breaking the Frame is quite frankly a difficult record, emphasizing Child’s most challenging and confrontational qualities within an unfamiliar template that can be alienating even at its most beautiful (“Presence”). It’s not a dance floor album at all, nor does it make for the easiest of home listening; but as another contender in a line of techno-leaning interrogations of dark, disturbed electronic music, it’s an inspiring and fascinating statement if you can crawl in without getting too frightened.

Blaktony  on June 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Ugly, dark, cavernistic, noise-y, mind-destroying, warehouse music….I FUKIN’ LUV IT!!!

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