Surrounded By Silence
hen you get there this fast, it’s only natural to figure out how hard it is to stay there. In regards to that old adage, Surrounded By Silence supplies a direct answer: fill your album with other people to quell that feeling. This new work includes appearances from Masta Killa, GZA, Ghostface, El-P, Beans, Pedro, Camu Tao, DJ Nobody, Kasu from Blonde Redhead, The Books, Aesop Rock, etc, and that’s all well and good. It’s just unfortunate that Scott Herren’s new approach to collaboration is an almost fearful response to an incapability to break out of his style. In a way it makes a case for another old saying: misery loves company.
Herren is a mindblowing talent. This is obvious to anyone who heard his previous three efforts, as he continues to ultra-chop samples and play out his acid jazz-hop to the extremes that song structure can handle. On the instrumental cuts, he seems less aggressive and almost a little less ambitious with his melodies and drum programming. That isn’t to say that he never impresses. “La Correction Exchange” with DJ Nobody is a patient drum-led assault that climaxes with an incredible sequence of claps and edits. “Pastel Assassins” shreds the Deheza sisters through video game degradation, fluttering soft synth and a rolling drumline. All in all, it seems pretty obvious to me that most of the effort was spent on calling friends and neighbors for their contributions.
All of the best-looking collaborations are ultimately the most disappointing. Masta Killa and GZA from Wu-Tang Clan show up for “Just The Thought.” What looks incredible on paper is pretty lackluster, with uninterested, somewhat offbeat vocals from both parties. With an uninspiring production, minimalist pulsing hi-hats and grime-like offset claps, it doesn’t seem nearly as Wu-centric as one would hope. The much talked about single “Hideyaface” with Ghostface and El-P disappoints, based around a lack of chemistry (El-P said on a radio show that verses weren’t recorded in the same room) and a relatively basic beat that pales when compared to El-P’s remix.
Those aren’t big surprises to me, as Prefuse has a history of quelling his creativity when producing for emcees (barring his explosive, song-saving remix of Beans’s “Mutescreamer”). The songs that win the biggest are the ones I didn’t expect to come together well. “Now You’re Leaving,” his collaboration with emcee/crooner Camu Tao, is huge, with jungle chops on the change-up and a continuation of Prefuse’s obsession with the human voice in his beats. “Pagina Dos” with the Books is a teaser for their upcoming full-length collaboration and it only does positive hype for their cause, spewing disembodied voices and swinging smashed guitars.
Overall, it’s a story of too many ideas. If Herren would’ve focused on making an album for himself, instead of jamming as many names in as possible, the back cover wouldn’t seem more important than the CD at times. So it’s the conflict between his obvious talent and a lack of personal focus that results in a mid-high mark for a top choice producer. My hope is that history repeats itself and Prefuse culls an outstanding outtakes disc with his reported collaborations with Tunde from TV On The Radio, Diplo, Madlib, and Four Tet.
Reviewed by: Rollie Pemberton
Reviewed on: 2005-03-24