Prefuse 73
"Surrounded By Silence"

13th June 2005
reviewer: Will
rating: 3 out of 5
published by: Warp Records
released: 21st March 2005
  1. I've Said All I Need To Say About Them Intro
  2. Hide Ya Face (feat. Ghostface & El-P)
  3. Bad Memory Interlude One
  4. Ty Versus Detchibe (feat. Tyondai Braxton)
  5. Expressing Views Is Obviously Illegal
  6. Pastel Assassins (feat. Claudia & Alejandra Deheza)
  7. Pagina Dos (feat. The Books)
  8. Silence Interlude
  9. Now You\'re Leaving (feat. Camu)
  10. Gratis (Prefuse vs. Pedro)
  11. We Got Our Own Way (feat. Kazu)
  12. Mantra (feat. Tyondai Braxton)
  13. Sabbatical With Options (feat. Aesop Rock)
  14. It's Crowded (feat. Claudia Deheza)
  15. Just The Thought (feat. Masta Killa & GZA)
  16. La Correcion Exchange (feat. DJ Nobody)
  17. Hide Ya Face (Reminder Version)
  18. Morale Crusher (feat. Beans)
  19. Minutes Away Without You
  20. Rain Edit Interlude
  21. And I'm Gone (Prefuse vs. Piano Overlord vs. Broadcast vs. Cafe Tacuba)

In just five short years, William Scott Herren has gone from Warp Records curio to highly-sought alt-hop icon. His trademark style of slicing and dicing MCs' vocals and wielding them as musical instruments turned heads when his first album as Prefuse 73, the downtempo Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, was released in 2001. An album of melodies weaved from the human voice, but with few intelligible lyrics, Vocal Studies walked a fine line between Rae & Christian-style instrumental hip-hop and Aphex Twin's pathological electronica.

The follow-up, 2003's One Word Extinguisher, expanded on the original's blueprint, introducing crunchier electronic beats and winning more fans (while its sister LP, Extinguished: Outtakes showed Prefuse's truly experimental side). With these, as well as several projects under his other aliases Savath & Savalas and Delarosa & Asora, Herren has made quite a name for himself in the indie/hip-hop world. Thus all eyes are on the latest Prefuse album, Surrounded By Silence: this is the one which could launch him to true stardom, and make good on his early nickname as "the underground Timbaland".

Rather then deliver a straight sequel to One Word Extinguisher, Surrounded By Silence takes the trademark Prefuse sound and uses it as a bed for various collaborations: of the 21 tracks here, 15 feature guest artists. Of course, Herren's vocal dissections are still very much part of the music, but to a lesser extent than before; this time he's taken a step back, and allowed his guests to shine. And in a bid to appeal to both the rap and indie sides of his audience, these guests range from members of the Wu-Tang Clan to cult synth-pop band Broadcast.

In contrast to previous albums, the guests' vocals are largely unedited: lead single ‘Hide Ya Face’, featuring Ghostface and El-P, could almost pass for mainstream rap (if it weren't for the musical arrangement, which sounds like Ambient-era Brian Eno getting drunk and falling down a flight of stairs), and the other MCs see their raps similarly preserved intact. Elsewhere, indie/electro flavour-of-the-month The Books offer their track ‘The Lemon Of Pink Pt. 1’ as grist for the cut-up mill, and folktronica luminary Pedro apparently puts in an appearance, not that you'd notice. But it's the girls who come out on top: Kazu (of Blonde Redhead) coos wistfully over tropical percussion on ‘We Got Our Own Way’, and the Deheza sisters (of On! Air! Library!) provide gorgeous breathy vocals for the increasingly chaotic ‘Pastel Assassins’.

This move towards the mainstream may upset Prefuse fans who enjoyed the Aphex Twin side to his music, but I think it'll be good for him. This album is defiantly not One Word Extinguisher Pt. 3, it's an experiment by a musician clearly confident in his abilities. Album three was never going to sound as revolutionary as album one, and while it's true that Surrounded By Silence is probably the least interesting Prefuse set so far - unless you're a big fan of any of the guest vocalists - it will nevertheless draw in more listeners, who'll get a fuller taste of hip-hop's future when the inevitable outtakes album is released later in the year. In fact, the collaborations that didn't make the cut - including M.I.A and Four Tet - make that record an even more intriguing prospect.