It’s almost hard to believe that glitchy hip-hop was really being made before Guillermo Scott Herren started putting out records under the Prefuse 73 moniker. His 2003 opus, One Word Extinguisher, shot so far beyond the field that it seemed to paralyze even Herren himself, whose later works sounded similar but failed to capture the emotion and humanity. On Preparations, Herren furthers his vision, constructing his songs with renewed intent, but he has also largely settled into a palette of sounds — which is great if you like it, repetitive if you don’t.
The tie that binds the Prefuse records is vocal manipulation. Whereas his 2001 debut, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, came about on the strength of chopping up emcees, Herren then took to re-editing a wide range of vocals, and his work there is still his trademark. “Girlfriend Boyfriend” and “Let It Ring” are built on that device, and though he uses it more texturally on the latter, it’s a trick that takes on new meaning with every new tone that gets added to the pot. The tenderness that drifts from those tracks fills a void that hip-hop desperately needs filled.
Sudden shifts, stops, and breakdowns punctuate the songs throughout the album. Though that’s not completely foreign to Prefuse records, Herren uses it to develop new themes in a short amount of time — such as the sweetly surprising breakdown on “Noreaster Cheer” — without losing sight of the tracks’ original directions. The deliberate pace of “Spaced + Dissonant” and “17 Seconds Interlude” give you time to wade through the madness and figure out exactly what Herren is doing in those delicately cluttered compositions.
The question is whether or not what he’s doing in there is any good. The answer is yes; Herren’s work has never lacked for melody and keen construction, and the light touch and sentiment that Prefuse 73 brings to hip-hop certainly helps to balance out the genre. But the reality is that many of these songs could easily be outtakes from One Word, and by sharing many of the same sounds, Preparations ends up sharing a similar voice, which doesn’t excite as it once did.
It seems cruel to punish Herren for maturing so fast as an artist, but it would have been nice to have one or two albums to push apart Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives and One Word Extinguisher to extend his arc a little bit. If we’d experienced more during the journey, the reward of reaching the destination might have lasted a little longer.