Prefuse 73 Surrounded by Silence

[Warp; 2005]

Styles: hip-hop, glitch-hop
Others: Madlib, Savath + Savalas, Delarosa & Asora, Dabrye

I'm always wary of collaborations. Jay-Z and Linkin Park makes me afraid to walk through my neighborhood park at night. I hear the word "featuring" and I shriek. Q-Tip's rhymes on the new R.E.M. album pop my toes. The fact that I wasted thirteen dollars on the Stars Like Fleas LP is the reason I keep a switchblade in my sock wherever I go.

But Scott Herren, the Barcelona-by-way-of-Atlanta producer who becomes Prefuse 73 whenever he wants to drop A.D.D. hop-hop jams, makes me want to replace that blade with a balloon. Surrounded by Silence, Scott's third full-length and most accessible/brilliant yet, is the most interesting and exciting hip-hop release of the year so far. And it's because of how he handles his star-studded collaborations.

From Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives to One Word Extinguisher, Prefuse has moved toward a more typical hip-hop sound while maintaining his peculiar and dense sampling technique. And Surrounded by Silence finds Herren cutting through the experimental music wilderness with his machete, moving even closer still to the Temple of Mainstream Hip-Hop. But don't fret! With an easily bored virtuoso like Herren, his eyes are always looking around, moving from monkeys to trinkets to whatever other shit you find in the jungle.

Surrounded by Silence is at once more scatterbrained and fast moving than any other Prefuse album (even more so than the blink-and-you-miss-the-hook Extinguished), but the difference here is the cohesion of the radically different cuts. Herren said this album is "the radio station of [his] mind" and that apt and genius idea has created a brilliant collusion between such wildly different collaborators such as The Books, Kazu from Blonde Redhead, Ghostface, El-P, Broadcast, Camu, Café Tacuba, Aesop Rock, and anyone else whose ever created good music (except the Comets on Fire dudes -- wouldn't that be awesome?).

As mentioned before in a balloon reference, the collaborations work. Herren and the Books work together splendidly on the wonderful "Pagina Dos," asserting both the Books' acoustic guitar prowess and Prefuse's beat-sculpting. And Aesop Rock has literally never sounded better than on the should-be-a-single "Sabbatical With Options." The Prefuse-stamp-of-approval funk-and-stutter drums perfectly accentuate Aesop's frantic taffy vocal stylings. It's here Herren best shows that he knows how to match his vocalists while maintaining his own sense of control over the mess. Never does the album veer into a compilation. It's always Prefuse 73 you're listening to.

The real single, "Hideyaface" with Ghostface and El-P, deserves every superlative you can nail to it. Scott knew what he was doing when he put such dynamically different voices in the studio together. They tumble through each other over the forever-dense and forward-propelling beats Prefuse squeezes out. It's like Herren has a Play-Doh machine and he keeps pushing out goopy spaghetti and the two emcees can't do anything except wade around in a kiddie pool full of it and try to pin each other to the mat for money that they will eventually split 50/50 later.

The most wonderful surprises though come when Scott takes the rappers out of the mess and puts in other vocalists, such as Kazu on "We Go Our Own Way" or Claudia Dehaza on "It's Crowded" and "Pastel Assassins" (which also features her sister Alejandra). Herren handles the situation perfectly, adapting to sound like M83 at the club.

The title of the album alludes to America's political situation, and Herren even said he was happy to leave NYC (where he recorded the album) and "get the fuck out of his crumbling country." His own instrumental cuts, such as "Expressing Views is Obviously Illegal," point even stronger to his feelings about our red, white and glued-together states.

As you've probably guessed from reading this review, Herren's ideas are all in full-bloom here. Unlike on past works, nothing is simply hinted at. Every idea is. It all adds up to a great record and proof Prefuse 73 is an eclectic musician who is creating the music he loves with the message he wants. Surrounded by Silence really is what Scott Herren wants on the radio. So welcome to a vision. Bring your balloon.

1. I've Said All I Need To Say About Them (Intro)
2. Hideyaface (feat. Ghostface and El-P)
3. Bad Memory Interlude One
4. TV Versus Detchibe (feat. Tyondai Braxton)
5. Expressing Views Is Obviously Illegal
6. Pastel Assassins (feat. Claudio and Alejandra Deheza)
7. Pagina Dos (feat. The Books)
8. Silencio Interlude
9. Now You're Leaving (feat. Camu)
10. Gratis (Pedro vs. Prefuse)
11. We Go Our Own Way (feat. Blonde Redhead's Kazu)
12. Mantra Two (feat. Tyondai Braxton)
13. Sabbatical With Options (feat. Aesop Rock)
14. It's Crowded (feat. Claudio Deheza)
15. Just the Thought (feat. Masta Killa and GZA)
16. La Correccion Exchange (feat. DJ Nobody)
17. Hideyaface Reprise (Shaolin Finale)
18. Morale Crusher (feat. Beans)
19. Minutes Away Without You
20. Rain Edit Interlude
21. And I'm Gone (feat. Prefuse vs. Piano Overlord vs. Broadcast vs. Cafe Tacuba)