Scott Herren must have a sense of humor. After releasing Surrounded by Silence to mixed reviews, he includes a track on his new disc, Security Screenings, titled “Illiterate Interlude,” in which some guy is essentially telling Herren that the album sucks: “This new album…I gotta be honest. I’m really, uh, not liking it. Could you have any more guests on it? It’s a bit crowded…what label are you on?” I can think of few other artists that would set aside an entire track to let themselves be knocked down a peg. But that’s just one of many curious moments on an album inspired by (wait for it) airport security.
Whether or not this is meant to be some sort of political statement is a little over my head, as almost all of the tracks are instrumental. Just as the break-up breakdance of One Word Extinguisher was supposed to revolve around a central theme, as does Security Screenings, in theory. But whether or not you intend to subscribe to this suggestion matters little when actually listening to the album. As a mostly instrumental, mostly Prefuse affair, it marks another surprising peak in Herren’s career.
The tunes on Screenings have a paranoid feel, and a bit of a mechanized coldness to them that most of Prefuse’s previous tracks never did. This is far glitchier and noisier, with the machines dangerously close to haywire. “With Dirt and Two Texts – Afternoon Version” features extreme cutting and pasting, while “Keeping Up With Your Quota” follows a more fluid sounding series of samples, rumbling low like subterranean lifeforms. “When the Grip Lets You Go” nears the psychedelic improvisation of ’70s fusion jazz (the movement that came after the one that lent Herren his Prefuse moniker).
“Another One Long Gone” samples backward female vocals, which sound both soothing and unsettling, almost like an outtake from Kid A, perhaps, while Herren’s collaboration with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, titled “Creating Cyclical Headaches,” is among the more straightforward sounding songs here. Noisy, even rocking out a bit, it’s a definite high point on this collection, which contains its share of unique and melodically vibrant tracks. The “Later Version With Love” edition of earlier song “With Dirt and Two Texts” is a little more laid back and sunny, as “No Origin” is whimsical and jazzy, which always means good things in Herren’s hands.
Aside from Four Tet, the only other noteworthy big name guest on Screenings is TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, who lends vocals to “We Leave You In a Cloud of Thick Smoke and Sleep Outro,” and even his pipes blend in with the ambient waves of sound. Nowhere as chaotic as Silence, and not nearly as long, Screenings is the perfect follow-up. But it’s not really a follow-up, so don’t tell Herren I said that, `kay?
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.