ince 1997, Guillermo Scott Herren has shuffled masks, personas, whatever you deem to call it, across albums. He composed angles of himself in tidal flats of bent circuits, guitars, electric steam, and vocal samples stretching from gossamer wistful to Def Jux righteous. Critics and writers call it “cut and paste” because they see the ProTools and laptop and landscaped terraces of drone and chirp.
But these are personal campaigns. The commitment to mask shuffling has given him time to decide on purpose, or, rather, purposes. Savath & Savalas, for instance, has become a way for him to explore the music of Catalonia (Herren was born to a Catalan father and a half-Cuban, half-Irish mother). And Prefuse 73 is his avenue to prod the closed dome of hip-hop with a caustic presentation (meticulously furious) of something (electronic music) it’s had an already fraught relationship with since its formation.
He began his work as Prefuse 73 on 2001’s Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, a still remarkably composed, if a little too rhythmically fettered, experiment in production. He asked: could hip-hop beats go beyond the ‘90s Virginia naked Prince tinfoil into realms where the 1-1-2 break beat skeleton would be the only recognizable song component for hip-hop fans?
2003’s One Word Extinguisher made it personal: Prefuse took the break-up album synthetic and hip-hop ready. Sonic pikes buried in sixteenth notes, bristle with lovers lockjaw rage for a half minute. And then the next track, all rage forgotten, the album sliding into untitled song after untitled song, opened valves exhaling lattice worked hums and sighs.
It’s as emotional as I’ve ever heard electronic music and it’s one of my favorite albums of this young millennium. I am not ashamed to say I was guided by it through college, depression, drugs, airports, various steppes and marshes and city streets.
And now, after the collaboration fascination piece, 2005’s Surrounded By Silence, and the 2006’s “not a real album” Security Screenings, Herren is a full time European. He is living in Barcelona, settled, and a father. I won’t play psychologist here (though, being the son of one, I’m damn near ready to), but his latest, Preparations reeks of comfort and assurance. It is prompt and controlled, a fine entry not just for Prefuse, but for the whole catalog of Herren.
The anchor and compositional theme for Prefuse is deliberate on Preparations, more explicit here than anywhere else in this particular persona’s catalogue: featherweight snares and bass pounding out Prefuse’s first loyalty—the 4/4 boom-bap of South Bronx. Quite literally, these are the breaks.
Wario grimaces may gild the lilies on “Noreaster Cheer,” but the roots are kick-snare. Even when the song opens into oxygenated smiles, the heartbeat remains. “Girlfriend Boyfriend” plays with nipped male vocals, digital squibs, and rippling drums. It, like all his songs, is a sonic analogy of Australian Aboriginal dot art: only three or four chroma, but punctuated and resequenced so rapidly that the audience has the illusion of platoons of tone.
At fourteen songs, all tied together in rhythm (even the smorgasbord “Pomade Suite Version One” could have its basic beat knocked out on a ratty yard sale kit), the album is palatable, a fine starting point for any Prefuse newcomers, but with enough range, and self-referential range at that (try, Extinguisher vets, to listen to Preparation’s “I Knew You Were Gonna Go” and not have “90% Of My Mind Is With You” ushered back to your skull) to keep weathered fans satisfied. And that’s a good emotion. There’s less challenge in Preparations, not necessarily less at stake, just less, perhaps, to brood on. Prefuse 73 sounds freer, and yet more deliberately formal—most of the songs break down like classic hip-hop does, two-thirds of the way toward the end.
The last time I reviewed Herren’s work I was prickly enough to say he was in a rut. Clearly that is no longer the case. Even though no art is ever a solo mission, for an artist and man who has so willingly explicated his own passions and outputs into the four winds and brought them together again, I think it’s only fair to appreciate what is, for now, a man in full.