Man, the future sure ain’t what it used to be. Here in the early 21st century, there are politicians actually debating evolution — hadn’t that all been pretty much decided a century ago? Vigilante border guards are patrolling the U.S.-Mexico line like a scene out of a bad Mad Max rip off. And where are my flying cars? I was promised flying cars.
Enter Prefuse 73, the nom de Technics of Atlanta-based DJ Scott Herren, and his latest nod to the future, “Surrounded by Silence.” While this century may be starting off as something of a disappointing future, Prefuse is certainly a welcome addition to a mediascape crowded by mediocrity.
“Silence,” much like the even further reaching 2003 release “One Word Extinguisher,” plays like the soundtrack you imagine should accompany most every William Gibson novel. Gritty and beat heavy, with traces of melancholy and even love, “Silence” feels oddly anachronistic even on an iPod, like Asimov written on papyrus. This is the music our great-grandchildren should be uploading directly into their cortex, bypassing the clunky plastic and metallic stopgaps that constrain music today.
“Expressing Views is Obviously Illegal” is easily the emblematic track of the album, with ethereal undertones weaving through tweaked blips and fleeting beeps that shoot past like speeding hoverbike couriers. Xylophone loops and thudding beats ground the track just enough to remind you to watch before you cross the street, with your head lost in the clouds.
Crossing genres is the hypnotic “Pagina Dos,” with its looping banjo licks, offering a possible glimpse at futuristic bluegrass. The haunting vocal whispers and clackety snap-stomp-beat suggests an android jug band, missing only the acidic whiff of 22nd century moonshine.
Despite these successes, “Silence” is far from the perfect stroll down tomorrow’s memory lane. Following the brilliance of “One Word Extinguisher,” collaboration on a massive scale was perhaps inevitable, but the number of guest appearances on “Silence” can't help but make the album feel overcrowded. Guest vocals from Masta Killa, GZA, Ghostface and EL-P (hiding his face behind the pseudonym Laserface) feel obligatory and serve mostly to remind you that you haven’t been unplugged from the Matrix just yet.
Prefuse works best when he’s creating profound music, not simply producing or dropping beats behind vocals. The two tracks that blend the voices of Claudia & Alejandra Deheza work brilliantly, effortlessly mixing sublime vocals as an instrument unto themselves, not just mailed-in wordplay added in the mix. Pairings on “We Go Our Own Way” with the perfectly understated Blonde Redhead, and “Sabbatical with Options,” matching staccato beats with the equally choppy rhymes of Aesop Rock, find balanced symbiosis between voice and beat.
Even if tomorrow isn’t shaping up like the world promised to us by the Epcot imagineers of yesterday, we can thankfully pretend, if only fleetingly, with Prefuse 73 today.
For more information on Prefuse 73, visit: http://www.prefuse73.com/.