Derrick May

Innovator

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Though fans and DJs had been waiting for his elusive next single for over five years, don't think of Innovator as a summation of Derrick May's production career. It's far too untidy to be the last word on this Detroit pioneer, shuttling from full track to alternate mix to production fragment, and gathering scattered versions like "Another Kaos Beyond Kaos," "Feel Surreal Begins," "A Relix Mix," and "Another Relic From the Relics." The first disc gathers several minute-long bits of tracks, occasionally vicious edits of an important track like "It Is What It Is." Yes, it's frustrating but, considering this is the only compilation available, listeners should be glad for anything they can get their hands on. Innovator begins, as it should, with "Strings of Life," the unapologetically emotional piano-and-synth-strings anthem that capped many a British warehouse party and rave during its 1988-1989 heyday. Though the mix here ("Strings of the Strings of Life") isn't quite the most famous one -- it's nearly beatless, and seems to be just on the verge of kicking in for all eight minutes -- the "original mix" is fortunately appended near the end of the second disc. Most of May's productions are tough, defiant rhythm tracks, raw but sturdy and put together better than any of his peers. There's much more bubbling below the surface than a casual listen betrays, and several tracks ("A Little Spaced Out," "Beyond the Dance," "Drama") are evocative productions from a time when little more was required of a dance track than a few skeletal beats, a bassline, and one or two samples. Best of all, several touchstones from the second disc -- "Salsa Life," "Nude Photo," and the Juan Atkins mix of "Wiggin'" -- are practically untouched. Not quite a best-of, and definitely not a new production album, Innovator is the work of a producer who, while perhaps not releasing many tracks anymore, is constantly at work on his legacy.

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