What is so goddamned great about vocals anyway? In the last year, countless mostly instrumental artists have been edging closer to the pop that will burst their creative bubbles (except for Daft Punk, which has been burned by its core audience for moving against the tide on Human After All). The most distressing display yet comes from Scott Herren, the man behind Prefuse 73, Savath and Savalas, Delarosa and Asora. One of the most creative forces in music today, Herren’s third official full-length under his most well-known moniker is a mostly dull collection of collaborations with equally promising artists.
It only took forty seconds of Prefuse’s trademark glitch-hop in One Word Extinguisher to get me excited (that album won the coveted Prefix Album of the Year award in 2003). But it’s not until the tenth track, the Pedro collab “Gratis,” that I’m entertained by Surrounded by Silence (the notable exception is “Pagina Dos,” the enjoyable Books collaboration, which is getting me ready for the Prefuse Reads the Books EP).
The solo tracks and Herren’s collaborations with other deejays are the highlights, which makes me wonder how much better the record would be if B-side collaborations with Diplo, Four Tet and Madlib had been included. “L.A. Correccion Exchange,” which features Nobody and comes after the completely worthless (and I’m a huge Wu fan) GZA and Masta Killa appearances on “Just the Thought,” is almost as enjoyable as “Rain Edit Interlude” near the end of the album. But it says a lot that Surrounded by Silence’s best track has “interlude” in its title.
Records that are stuffed with guest appearances have to do certain things to maintain their cohesiveness. Daedelus’s Exquisite Corpse, which came out twenty days before this album did and uses guests excellently, used somewhat related guests who tailored their performances to the producer’s sound (and, in some cases, his bio). Many of the performances on Prefuse’s album seem phoned-in. If I didn’t know better, I’d be screaming “forced marketing.”
Prefuse has often been disappointing, or at best serviceable, at providing an emcee with sonic underpinnings. In fact, his strength is just the opposite: manipulating a vocal into just another tool. So it really shouldn’t have been all that surprising that an album like this would be so disappointing. As singles, a lot of the tracks are enjoyable enough. Some are quite good, and a few are excellent. Only together do they reveal themselves as sonically unadventurous. Take away the guests, leave us with beats on an album unmarked by a name related to Herren, and Surrounded by Silence is quickly enjoyed and easily forgotten.