Thursday, July 13, 2006

Surrounded

Posted on Thu, Jul 13, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Surrounded
Label: Rhino
Length: LP
Rated: NONE
Media: CD
Format: BoxSet
WorkNameSort: Surrounded
In years past, it was albums like Dark Side of the Moon that were used to pimp out new sonic technologies. Whether it was quadraphonic vinyl or 24-karat gold'plated CDs, certain albums ' almost all of which could easily be classified as 'classic rock� ' stand as paragons of recording quality, and thus perfect specimens for demonstrating the clarity and accuracy of whatever excuse the record industry is giving you to rebuy everything you own. The release of Surrounded, a boxed set of DualDisc versions of seven of Björk's albums, provides a brand-new benchmark for the post-analog age. Unflinchingly modern and sonically dense, the sounds that Björk has pursued since leaving the Sugarcubes have been a consistent example of what happens when you take a mildly avant-garde approach to making pop music. Maximizing the capacity of whatever equipment she uses while utilizing every trick and tweak available to create unusual combinations of even more unusual sounds, Björk's studio albums have been as weirdly experimental as they have been warmly engaging. And they have a beat you can dance to. The DualDisc format ' which is a CD on one side and a DVD on the other side ' seems tailor-made for these albums. The car stereo'friendly CD side makes it easy to bump to beats like 'Human Behaviour� and 'Army of Me,� while the DVD side boasts a collection of videos (another area in which Björk has been consistently ahead of the curve) and two surround-sound mixes (Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS). In those mixes (especially the DTS mix), the mild claustrophobia of Homogenic's 'Hunter� is ramped up into a swimming pool of immersive string figures, enveloping vocal echoes and hard-to-pin-down drum tracks, and even Debut's relatively straightforward 'Big Time Sensuality� reveals itself to be a surprisingly intricate concoction of some very odd parts. With Medúlla, however, Björk's sheer compositional insanity is made abundantly clear. The multiple vocal samples used to create the disc's basic tracks pop out with amazing clarity, resulting in a sublimely dizzying experience. Surrounded proves that when you're dealing with new sonic technologies, sometimes it's best to turn to a mad sonic scientist for the best test material. This set is rather expensive (list price of $129.98), but it's worth it; after all, this is probably the one thing that could turn a generation of MP3-listeners into sonic connoisseurs.

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