2005: Television

It’s not really been a golden year for television. A few good programmes, but nothing actually spectacular. I don’t write about television on this blog as much as I might. I guess that’s because I’m not really a big television fanatic in general. But as with most people, a number of programmes do come to […]

Prefuse 73 – Surrounded by Silence

Product Image: Surrounded by Silence
My rating: 4 out of 5

Surrounded by Silence is the latest album from the ridiculously prolific Prefuse 73, aka Scott Herren. To give you a vague idea of how prolific this guy is, under his various monickers he has released three albums and two EPs since (to take one example) Autechre’s last album — with more in the pipeline. You’re never left craving new music from Herren, because it just comes anyway.

This album has made me confront something that has struck me about Scott Herren ever since I heard a second album of his though (the two albums in question, incidentally, are Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives and Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey). Is his music too formulaic?

Herren’s sound is unmistakable. When I tuned into Mixing It a couple of weeks ago in the middle of a Prefuse 73 track it didn’t take me at all long to figure out who it was. Even beyond Prefuse 73, you can recognise this sound in his ‘folkier’ Savath & Savalas and Delaros and Asora work aswell as his recent Piano Overlord EP. Every time I hear one of his new records for the first time I find it bland and unadventurous; it sounds as though Herren has a loose formula, and it’s not difficult to see how he can release so much music.

In this album Herren even uses a lot of samples that can be found in older releases. They’re littered all over the place. But it sounds great. It’s like Look Around You repeating that thants joke in every episode; it’s old but it still surprises and pleases you — and it just works. In a way it’s one of the most interesting aspects of this album — the way Herren can keep on using his old samples in new creative ways.

And that’s the thing. Despite the ‘formula’, Herren always sounds experimental and fresh. As if to demonstrate how he can do the same thing differently, there are two versions of the same track, Hide Ya Face, which could hardly contrast more.

When Prefuse 73 first landed, a lot of people disliked the way he cut his collaborators’ rapping up — people thought he was destroying the rappers’ messages. I personally loved the cut ups though. There is less of that this time though; Herren seems to be a bit more deferential to his collaborators these days, but he can’t resist pulling something out of his sleeve.

Prefuse collaborates with a wide variety of artists in this album — everybody from Aesop Rock (who reminds me of a grumpy Dose One) to El-P to Broadcast! Who’d have thought that Broadcast would go so well with Prefuse 73? Once again Herren does his best work with vocals. Claudia Deheza appears on two tracks in Surrounded by Silence. Her voice is beautiful and Pastel Assassins is particularly sublime. Mantra, meanwhile, is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard — and I love it.

Despite my grumbles about his formula, I always end up loving every single one of Scott Herren’s releases. Right now I can’t stop listening to Surrounded by Silence. When I first heard it I thought it was good but I was underwhelmed. Now I think there isn’t a single duff track, and despite the now over-familiar sound I think this might even be his best album.