Prefuse 73 – Surrounded By Silence

Prefuse 73Surrounded By Silence (Warp)

Having already re-defined the art of the producer—re-contextualizing hip-hop with electronic ambience and glitch-cut break-beats, using the emcee as a portion of the beat instead of a canopy to drape it with—Prefuse 73 has dropped Surrounded By Silence, inviting the whole neighborhood into his New York studio for what Scott Herren himself deems a record meant to bring people from different worlds together.

When Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello struck gold with The Postal Service, it set a trend of unusual collaborations that affected hip-hop most personally. Herren has taken this collective creativity to its next logical step, using his latest album as an excuse to go crazy-mad-scientist with some of today’s more brilliant musical minds. The wide array of collaborators, which spans from Wu-Tang members Ghostface and GZA to indie darlings The Books and Kazu from Blonde Redhead but includes a million other guests between them, is a testament to the versatility of Prefuse’s signature sound while at the same time sacrificing the continuity and seamlessness of his other work. With a few exceptions, the guests appear at home within the dense sound that has become synonymous with its creator. And though it is likely to be overlooked in the wake of his epic One Word Extinguisher, his latest LP is his most expansive (albeit inconsistent), covering a lot of ground over the album’s 21 tracks.

Sonically, he picks up where Extinguisher left off, adding textures of ambience over tracks that move at mach-speed. Cutting-up dizzying drones and throwing in percussive hits that deteriorate on impact at a rate of 128th notes, using everything and the kitchen sink, Herren has kept a vibrant consistency throughout Silence. The guests involved visit Prefuse’s solitary soundscape and integrate themselves into it, creating a rare instance where artists from all points can come together and find a common ground to display their different backgrounds.

Ghostface and El-P strike first with “hideyaface”, the predictably volatile first single. Though both emcees sport very different styles, they sound natural together. But it’s surrealist super-emcee Aesop Rock who fares the best, delivering tongue-twisting rhymes (“A hunger lung over the only oak in BK / This was after having perused every crook nook tucked in the scrupulum”) at a speed that Herren works to keep up with. Known as much for sporting past appearances from MF Doom as Sam Prekop, Herren sounds just as natural crafting chaotic beats syruped in a deliciously soothing sample of the word “rain” or noodling with the space-agedness of label mate Autechre.

Unfortunately for the overall strength of Silence, some guests pull up lame. Masta Killa and the GZA, who both appear on “Just the Thought,” hand in sub-standard verses. Killa runs all over the beat without actually hitting it. Idiosyncratic emcees need a little extra to get by (see: Aesop), and while there are a number of current rappers who pull off such meter-defying calisthenics with ease, Killa’s attempt at such arrhythmia sounds diseased.

The album’s wide spectrum gives it the looser, improvisational feel of a naught-era hipster’s dream mixtape—aside from the rappers, The Books and Kazu both bring their typical Eastern-tinted arrangements. “Pagina Dos,” an exact mating of The Books’ glitch-folk and Prefuse’s thunderous chaos, is the album’s shining star.

Behind every track is the hand of Herren, directing the action as he sees fit, manipulating every other mind to grace this record with a trigger of a sample or a bend of a note. The antithesis of the conceptual One Word Extinguisher, Silence is the bridge that finally connects the slightly-related but segregated worlds of undie and indie—providing life for the party of anyone who values his/her copy of Fear of a Black Planet as much as Neon Golden. Unaware that he may be too hip-hop or indie for trad fans of both genres, Herren crafts Silence in the space where bloggers and back-packers exchange awkward glances at one another. And though it isn’t always pretty, the album’s schizophrenic condition is perfect when you want to hear something that’s blissful, soothing, abrasive, disjointed and somehow still thematic; while still bringing enough bump to rattle the rearview mirror on your VW Gulf.

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