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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Prefuse 73
Surrounded By Silence
Warp Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

January 4, 2006
In the face of the run-of-the-mill beat programmer's inbuilt quality control mechanisms, there seems to be no sample too extravagant or unworkable for Scott Herren. As far as he is concerned, anything goes, and in the case of Prefuse 73, go it does. Herren's Prefuse 73 (one of a number of his projects) resembles an aural Monet: on close inspection, a jumbled assortment of found sounds, but when perceived from afar, a unique and cohesive patchwork of hip-hop experimentation.

Urban enthusiasts should be prepared for a buffet of sounds because although entrenched in hip-hop, Surrounded by Silence, Herren uses it as little more than a backbone, instead focusing on the processed samples that take root in his beats. Given the eclecticism of his range of sampling, Surrounded by Silence expresses much more diversity than the average hip-hop record. As Prefuse 73, Herren must however face the same truth that any pioneering artist must at some point: the fact that the unique and novel become the old and tired if simply repeated time and again. Two years ago, with One Word Extinguisher Herren broke new ground, taking glitch-hop to the next level, so where next?

Herren's updated approach possesses one striking distinction relative to his earlier work: a growing interest in collaboration. Two-thirds of Surrounded by Silence features a contributor of some sort, ranging from rap and hip-hop forefathers Beans and Aesop Rock to the less obvious contributions from the likes of noise artiste Tyondai Braxton and The Books. It's the non-hip-hop collaborations that allow Prefuse 73 to shine, as he dismantles banjos and vocals in the case of The Books, and Tyondai Braxton's human beat-box to craft Surrounded by Silence's most accomplished tracks. The two tracks ("Pagina Dos" and "Ty Versus Detchibe," respectively) along with "We Got it Our Own Way," which features vocals from Kazu of Blonde Redhead, showcase Herren doing what he does best: gutting, splicing and rearranging his sources to assume flowing chapters that owe as much hip-hop as they do electronica, glitch, IDM, or whatever. These cooperative tracks allow Herren to really massacre the sound, and his regular hip-hop team-efforts ("Hide Ya Face" with Ghostface and El-P and "Sabbatical with Opinions" with Aesop Rock, for example) wind up sounding one-dimensional by default.

Hidden amongst Herren's show-stealing collaborative tracks are the raw Prefuse 73 tracks that really make Surrounded by Silence tick. "I've Said All I Need to Say About Them Intro" is a freewheeling assault, busy with glitches and deep in dynamics. Its cut-up samples and intermittent breaks garner it a life of its own, and with tunes suppressed as they are, it really is a punch in the face. "Expressing Views is Obviously Illegal" is equally miscellaneous and demonstrates a production full of activity. These elements of Surrounded by Silence attest that Prefuse 73's take on hip-hop is one that does not require a focal point. The meaning is in the production.

Surrounded by Silence's flow is remarkable, given the diversity of its origins and the artistic corners from which it is derived. Though it may be difficult to meet on the back of One Word Extinguisher, the fact remains that Prefuse 73 is responsible for some of the most cutting edge electronic music of the last few years, and Herren's ability to uphold that reality will surely intensify the world's anticipation for his next release.

Reviewed by Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other reviews by Mike Wright



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