Every so often, there comes an album that seems almost too fragile to evaluate, as if even looking in its direction would shatter it, destroying its very existence. So it is with Scott Herren’s latest work as Savath & Savalas. Herren, the pioneer behind Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher — Prefix‘s choice for best album of 2003 — takes a turn here that not even fans of Savath & Savalas’s 2000 debut, Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey, would expect.
Recording with his friend Eva Puyuelo Muns in Barcelona, the city he now calls home, Apropa’t exposes so much about the trajectory of the relationship that it becomes a fascinating look at an artist at the top of his game suddenly transformed. It would be easy to either ignore or expect at least hints of Prefuse 73, but once you invest in this album, it’s clear the acknowledgment is more important than any actual similarities when it comes to understanding the shift in focus.
In Herren’s work as Prefuse 73, passion constantly shines through the cacophonous machinery. The cut-up abstract vocals he uses exude a feeling of humanity trapped under the surface, but instead of being resigned to its prison, it’s bursting at the seams. How ironic, then, that Apropa’t seems so devoid of humanity. The warmth has been replaced by preciousness, but none of this beauty seems organic or even earthly. Perhaps that comes largely from the feeling that what we’re listening to is not culled from interpersonal relations, but from deep within the soul. Whereas One Word Extinguisher was a constant human symphony being played out over beats, Apropa’t leaves us with our own minds.
Much has been written about this album in relation to Herren’s other work. The reason for this — aside from the fact that it is simply impossible to ignore such important albums in any artist’s career — is that the album itself is so hard to pin down. Vocals from the two rookie singers (which is not to say bad) float in and out of the mix, faint electronics give way to echoing guitars give way to sloping drums. The mild indication of the Warp label that so improbably released the album is lost before you can grab onto it to examine, and songs blend into songs until you can barely remember when the album started or when it will end.
My lack of comprehension of Spanish, not to mention my full ignorance of Catalan, the other language spoken here, seems beside the point. Herren’s work has never been focused around vocals (if it ever featured them to begin with), and this is not different. Apropa’t could technically be considered Spanish folk music, but it’s really neither, and any comparisons to other work in similar genres seems lacking. Perhaps the best comparison would be to the classic Gil e Jorge, but that album’s simple musical improvisation by two of the best Brazilian folk singers of all time relates to the subtly-but-throughly-produced feel of Apropa’t only in its lack of structure and its strong, introspective emotional pull.
The structure here is extremely inaccessible. “Um Girassol Da Cor De Seu Cabelo,” the only cover of the album’s fourteen tracks, is also basically the only true (pop) song on the album. Stuck right in the middle of the record, it seems upon initial listens as if the rest of the album is just trying to give exposure to such a beautiful song, building up to it and leading out with grace.
But listen to Apropa’t more. Listen to it while you sleep, while you write, while you fuck. This isn’t your average background music and it isn’t your average folk. What so many albums depend on in criticism is not only classification but analysis. What is this and why does it succeed/fail? Apropa’t demands neither of these things; it rejects them. Instead, Herren and Muns are asking you to turn back to your own minds. This album will mean a lot of different things to different people, but its beauty is intended to be that way: fleeting, personal and timeless.