Prefuse 73: Surrounded By Silence
Warp Records

On paper, Scott Herren's latest Prefuse 73 disc doesn't appear radically unlike One Word Extinguisher: structurally, it's an hour-long connecting stream of dense, succinct vocal and instrumental pieces framed by an intro and outro. And rumour has it that, just as he followed up One Word Extinguisher with the equally satisfying addendum Extinguished: Outtakes, so too will Surrounded By Silence be followed by a related disc of collaborations with Madlib, Diplo, Four Tet, and Mia Doi Todd, among others. Don't think, however, that Herren has painted himself into some formulaic corner, as the new recording notably expands upon his previous work. While One Word Extinguisher features guests like Dabrye, Mr. Lif, and Diverse, the album remains primarily Herren alone; the new album, on the other hand, is almost entirely collaborations (with artists like Aesop Rock, D.J. Nobody, The Books, Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, Beans, Tyondai Braxton, and Camu), a move which consequently finds the Prefuse sound being stretched into startling new configurations.

Surrounded By Silence reveals Herren to be an extraordinary sonic Dadaist, with the collage-like overture alone bursting with more ideas than grace other artists' entire albums. One might expect blazing hip-hop throwdowns like “Hideyaface,” with Wu-Tanger Ghostface and ex-Company Flow M.C. EL-P rhyming over a sweet Prefuse backing, as well as the darker “Just The Thought” with Masta Killa and GZA. But bold new directions surface in the bluegrass folk-meets-hip-hop of “Pagina Dos” and in “Hideyaface Reprise (Shaolin Finale)” where the original is transformed into delicate gamelan. Other highlights include the sunkissed flow of “Expressing Views Is Obviously Illegal,” buttery voices cooing over funky beats in “Pastel Assassins,” and the wild closer “And I'm Gone” where the rich vocals of Broadcast's Trish Keenan do battle with drum clatter and vocal choirs. Every track offers something unique and the level of invention sustained thoughout is often jaw-dropping.

Ultimately, though, it's Herren's hiccupping Prefuse groove that connects the album's disparate stylistic threads. That familiar head-nodding lurch emerges in the Pedro collab “Gratis,” for example, though enriched by sombre cello tones and a delicate flute and strings coda. But whatever stylistic detours the album takes, make no mistake: its core is hip-hop, if a uniquely idiosyncratic type all Herren's own (described by him as “the radio station of my mind”). What makes the album most remarkable is how Herren effortlessly bridges cultures and styles and, rather than erecting rigid walls between seemingly irreconcilable musics, finds the common thread of humanity running through it all. Surrounded By Silence shows him to be a true innovator who continues to transform the hip-hop landscape in stunning, even at times revolutionary manner.

March 2005