There’s an astounding number of guests on Prefuse 73’s third full-length, Surrounded by Silence. In fact, it seems a little unsettling to see so many extra names tacked on to an album made by an already-great artist. With the release of 2003’s One Word Extinguisher, Prefuse, a.k.a. Scott Herren, made a name for himself by mixing buzzing, glitchy beats with pleasant, pretty melodies, bridging the gap between IDM and jazz fusion. His samples are consistently interesting, his ideas never wear themselves thin (or out as he’s proven himself averse to songs over five minutes long) and he never let guests compromise the quality of his music. Even when rappers like Mr. Lif lent their vocal talents to Herren’s music, the results were uniquely the product of P73.
So the question arises, not only as to whether or not Herren succeeds in making a worthy follow-up to One Word Extinguisher, but whether or not his guests overshadow his talents. The answer to the first is yes, as Surrounded by Silence is every bit as quirky and enjoyable as its predecessor. And the answer to the second question is, well, yes and no. When you hear a Prefuse 73 song, a strong vocal presence isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Instrumentally, Herren is a formidable force in electronic music and does a damn fine job on his own. But in the case of Surrounded by Silence, allowing a few guest stars to shine doesn’t, at all, hinder the album’s overall sound. In fact, in many cases, it actually enhances Herren’s compositions.
The first immediate collaboration of note on Silence is “Hideyaface,” a hip-hop track featuring Ghostface and El-P. This song is the first single, and as such, the most straightforward hip-hop track on the album. Though Herren does dabble in b-boy style, he’s never gotten this close to playing it old school before, but even here his quirky synth sounds are unmistakable. Claudia and Alejandra Deheza offer lovely vocals on the jazzy “Pastel Assassins,” a track that’s somewhat reminiscent of Herren’s work in Savath and Savalas. Electro-acoustic duo The Books leave their mark on “Pagina Dos,” a song that truly shows off the strengths of both artists involved. Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead plays part in one of the best tracks on the album, however. Her vocal lends an air of mystique to the noir-ish “We Go Our Own Way.” If there’s going to be a second single, this should be the one.
The instrumental works on Surrounded by Silence should be more than enough to please fans of Prefuse 73’s previous work. “I’ve Said All I Need to Say About Them Intro,” drops you right into the twitchy electro world of Prefuse, as “Expressing Views is Obviously Illegal” mixes things up with some vibraphone samples, displaying Herren’s penchant for combining jazz with electro. “Gratis” veers into more sampladelic territory, sounding more like something on a DJ Shadow album. And “Ty Versus Detchibe” could easily be mistaken for a One Word Extinguisher outtake, for those who aren’t ready to take the plunge into the more peculiar tracks here.
After hearing such a vast array of sounds, Surrounded by Silence culminates in the blurry haze of “And I’m Gone,” a song that features the talents of Broadcast and Café Tacuba, among others. Broadcast are the most noticeable stars, as Trish Keenan’s vocals take center stage. And the melody sounds like it’s pulled straight from haha Sound. But then you realize, this is a Prefuse 73 record. So where is Herren on this track? Who knows, but it sounds so cool, you stop caring.
I’m not sure if this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Prefuse 73, as some of the tracks get lost in a sea of guest stars, leaving one to ponder if this record should really be credited to Prefuse. But regardless of whose name is pasted on the record, it’s all good. Whether chillin’ with the Wu-Tang, jammin’ with Def Jux’s hottest rappers or spacing out with Broadcast and Blonde Redhead, Scott Herren has proven himself adept at adapting to other artists’ styles, as well as expressing his own. Still, it’d be nice to get him all to ourselves again in the future.
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.