Perhaps the most interesting thing about Scott Herren’s work as Prefuse 73 is his ability to get so much mileage out of such a specific sound. There is no denying a Prefuse track when you hear one, yet without wholesale turnover each of his albums has a different tone to it. His breakthrough One Word Extinguisher shot high on critical praise and word-of-mouth about its inspiration, a fractured relationship that led Herren to isolating himself in the studio to create what most consider his masterpiece. The general public seemed to be turned off by the Surrounded By Silence, the cameo-laden follow-up, which was loosely disjointed compared to the cohesive Extinguisher. The variety of guests and Herren’s choice to contextualize his sound within their respective worlds instead of making them adapt to his hurt the record’s strength overall, in the eyes of some (not me, Scott…I’ve been with you the whole way). Security Screenings, the un-follow-up to Silence (a full-length that is disguising itself as a companion disc) and perhaps last (?) Prefuse album, finds Herren for the most part keeping to himself—and he sounds more miserable here than on One Word Extinguisher.
There were signs of heartbreak throughout Extinguisher in the more textured tracks, but the album contained more than a few bangers to break the concept that otherwise earmarked the album. Screenings sounds sad, lonely, and defeated. Herren mostly eschews the hip-hop sensibilities that marked his former work in favor of gentler, more deliberate production. You might go so far as to call Security Screenings minimalist—at least as minimalist as the typically bombastic glitch-hop pioneer can get. Herren, who typically bombards soothing sampling with kitchen sink-style production techniques, turns down the backing chaos and allows ambience to take control.
“Creating Cyclical Headaches” is the lone noisy exception, the product of Prefuse and kindred soul Four Tet together. You can break the track in two and see who contributed what—an ornate synth melody (the type that would fit right in on Everything Ecstatic) bubbles at the surface before being buried under an avalanche of white noise and drones. The other guest is Tunde from TV on the Radio, who provides the type of appearance that most would have preferred on Silence. Tunde intonates various syllabic pitches which Herren, as has become custom, edits and layers into the rest of the mix, making Tunde’s presence completely unrecognizable without a glimpse of the liner notes.
If this is in fact the last Prefuse album—Herren has posted some pretty cryptic messages on his website regarding the end of the Prefuse era—the producer has chosen to go out with a sign instead of a bang. He no longer commands attention, which is a position I’d imagine Herren is more comfortable with. He’s never been impressed by his success, and doesn’t seem to need it either. After all, this is the man who moved to Spain, the apex of glitch-hop (sarcasm!), and put out a Spanish folk album after One Word Extinguisher blew up. He’s never been one to pander to the press, and he stood especially strong in the wake of negativity that followed Silence. However, one has to wonder if the reaction of releasing another album mostly devoid of guest appearances within a year of Silence was to satisfy some who weren’t happy with all of the outsiders clouding Herren’s last album. He even throws a brief clip of one of Silence‘s detractors questioning Herren about all of the albums guests. I’m unsure if this is an example of self-deprecating humor, an attempt to draw attention to the rectification of the supposed flaw of Herren’s last album, or a combination of both. Either way, it seems like something’s bugging Herren, as Screenings is the most plodding, isolated album in his career. Still, for anyone who has followed the career of Prefuse 73, it sounds familiar and serves as a reminder—despite the presence of Savath & Savalas, Piano Overlord, or any of Scott Herren’s other aliases, Prefuse 73 has built something from scratch.