On Basic Tonal Vocabulary, Surgeon practices the skills he learned from the Jeff Mills school of minimal techno. Layers of various percussive rhythms and synthesizer loops gel into a disorientated whole that moves forward with relentless tempo and intensity -- in other words, banging. Unlike Mills though, Surgeon's tracks on Basic Tonal Vocabulary may retain the density and intensity of the Detroit artist, but they often come across sounding messy. The many layers of percussive rhythms within the context of a given track often don't synthesize; the result resembles a DJ's unsuccessful attempt to mix two techno records at +8. Surgeon also toys with moments of sublime ambience on tracks such as "Waiting" and "Intro." Since both are rather simple in nature, without all of the pounding bass beats and multiple layers of percussion, they sound rather fresh and function as welcome intermissions from Surgeon's onslaught of techno. While the first half of the album may seem like a dissonant cacophony, the last few tracks such as "Rotunda," "Scorn," and "Return" show the artist's potential for brilliance. On these last three, the countless layers of looped percussion synthesize perfectly, producing forward-moving tracks that seem to imitate gigantic swarms of locusts; buzzing, swirling, and always advancing with jarring kinetic force, these pieces surpass even the best work ever done to date by the minimal techno guru Mills himself. It is just unfortunate that the first half of this album sounds like a failed experiment with the concepts and ingredients present, but the products lacking.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier