February 27, 2006

Prefuse 73 "Security Screenings"

2005 was glitch-hop genius Scott Herren’s most prolific year as both a recording artist and a live performer. Under his Prefuse 73 alias, he released a full-length album saturated with guest spots (Surrounded by Silence) and a collaborative EP with the Books; under his Piano Overlord alias, he released a long-awaited singles collection. Herren also went on two worldwide tours to support Silence. Consider also the amount of interviews he participated in to promote the album, most of which he probably spent defending himself against those who panned it. An excerpt from one of these interviews appears as an interlude on the new Prefuse album, Security Screenings. Journalist Chuck Peterson tells Herren, “I’ve gotta be honest with you; I didn’t like it. Could you have had any more guest spots??!?” Adding insult to injury, he then forgets both the name of the album and the label that it was released on. In a mere 28 seconds, the interlude clues the listener in to how stressed out Herren probably was for most of the year.

I’m not going to lie and say that Silence was flawless — for one, the Wu-Tang collaboration was an abomination. However, if the album’s purpose was to show people how adaptable Herren’s production style could be to various genres (hip-hop, R&B, indie-rock, psych-pop), then it was definitely a success. If the vague messages that he’s peppered his official website and his MySpace profile with are to be trusted, though, the brouhaha over Silence has made him consider retiring the Prefuse 73 name for good. Whether or not Security Screenings is meant to be Prefuse’s last stand, I’m sure one of his motivations for making it was to prove to the haters that he is still at the top of his game. It’s telling that this album has only two collaborations: one with Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet), and another with Babatunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio. Unlike the guest artists on Silence, Hebden and Adebimpe provide source material that’s not unlike the stuff that Herren picks out when he’s left to his own devices. Thus, Security Screenings can be seen as a “return to form”...even though he didn’t really stray that far from form to begin with.

Herren’s work as Prefuse 73 has never been an easy listen, but Security Screenings has more moments of unchecked sonic aggression than his previous releases. The “afternoon version” of “With Dirt and Two Texts” has a bass line so distorted that it made me think my speakers were blown when I first heard it. The industrial-strength percussion of “Weight Watching” sounds like two samurai having a sword fight. On the appropriately named “Creating Cyclical Headaches,” Herren smears thick clouds of distortion all over a bouncy Four Tet beat by violently flat-handing his Rhodes piano. “Breathe” sounds like Herren rapidly clicking through every sound file on his laptop, in an attempt to figure out which ones he’s going to use for his next song. Then, there’s the astonishing “No Origin,” in which micro-edited samples of horns and voices fly past my ears until it feels like I’m listening to an Akufen song at half-speed.

Of course, there are also moments of beauty. “Another One Long Gone” comes across as a musical twin of “90% of My Mind Is With You” (from 2003's One Word Extinguisher). Despite the hobbling drumbeat and gurgling bass line, the woozy keyboards and vocal harmonies bring the track very close to “Quiet Storm” territory. The second version of “With Dirt and Two Texts” is slower than Herren’s usual fare; the tropical drums and sampled flutes give the music a very wistful tone. “Matrimonoioids,” the album’s last proper “song,” is probably the album’s breeziest track. It’s got fewer micro-edits and more prominent keyboards than every other song on the album. It’s very telling that the song was recorded in 2000 (as indicated in the liner notes), way before he started receiving international acclaim. It’s a reminder of why we all started listening to Herren in the first place, and it’s a perfect ending to an album that reminds us why we should KEEP listening to him, long after he finally puts Prefuse 73 to rest.

—Sean Padilla

Artist Website: www.prefuse73.com
Label Website: www.warprecords.com

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