Before the breakout success of Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, Guillermo Scott Herren was putting out quiet, thoughtful, folk-tinged electronic records under the name Savath and Savalas. While Herren has always insisted that each of his projects be approached independently of one another, the success of Prefuse 73 has usually informed the critical reception of his other work. Savath and Savalas, then, while generally critically acclaimed, has too often been labeled as a side project. However, Herren’s sheer prolificness and variety have more recently brought us around to his separate-but-equal mantra; comparisons between his various projects are becoming less and less convincing.
This album, for example, is just one of three (three!) that Herren has released in the past couple months alone, all under different monikers. And because all of these records are so different stylistically, the critical project increasingly shifts from an egg hunt for Prefuse references to an attempt at explaining just how Herren can so quickly produce such prodigious amounts of quality music.
The most notable aspect of La Llama is its deceptive complexity. Initial spins of the record float by almost dreamlike; melodies are real and viscerally felt in one moment, but leave almost no trace on the mind in the next. Subsequent listens reveal layers of vocal harmonies, subtle glitches and puzzling samples that leave a much more permanent impression. It takes several times through to fully understand how this music works, which unfortunately gives it very little social currency in the oft-bemoaned ADD culture of the present, but which fortunately rewards those listeners with the patience to give the album its due.
This complexity should be attributed in large part to the inclusion of Catalan singer Eva Puyuelo-Muns. Puyuelo-Muns did not contribute to 2007’s Golden Pollen, and it could be argued that the lack of critical praise following that album was partly due to the lack of depth that she lent to 2004’s Apropa’t. Here, her breathy vocals are the driving force behind several of the standout tracks. “No Despierta” gets its momentum from her vocal melody before it fades out with a slowly evolving guitar line, and the title track owes its dramatic crescendos more to her than to Herren’s noisy glitches.
In addition to Puyuelo-Muns, Herren has recruited multi-instrumentalist Roberto Carlos Lange, though his presence is more subtle throughout the record. He helps out on vocal duties on several songs, and there are sparks and flashes where it seems that his production has either replaced or subdued Herren’s glitchier tendencies, although such things are hard to speculate upon with such an inherently atmospheric project as Savath and Savalas. In either case, La Llama feels much more like a group effort than did previous Savath and Savalas albums.
Although the death knell of the full album was sounded years ago, Scott Herren either didn’t hear or doesn’t care. La Llama, like his previous albums under the Savath and Savalas name, evolves slowly over its entirety, and requires repeat listens for full impact. In the era of the single-song download, it takes guts to release a down-tempo, psychedelic, foreign-language album. Herren has both the reputation and skills necessary to make it work.