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Whether it’s Afrika Bambaataa bringing Kraftwerk to the New York ghetto, or Kanye West sampling Daft Punk for the Chicago club scene, there’s a rich history of hip-hop artists mining the archives of electronic music. With Crookers, A-Trak and The Count And Sinden putting rap/electro hybrids right back into fashion, it is apt that this year marks the return of Prefuse 73, a fine example of an artist selflessly plugging away while trends catch up with him. Scott Herren has been loosely using this fusion throughout his prolific career – albeit reconstituting it in a completely different and inimitable way.
Largely unknown in Britain but for his distribution on bastion of UK electronica, Warp, Prefuse 73 is like a digital, less sample-based version of the late J Dilla, a master of his material, ripping up any hook that comes close to lingering.
Characterised by a frenetic, kaleidoscope of cuts and fragments of ideas, 2003's second album One Word Extinguisher was a beckoning to the underground. Never likely to burst out into the mainstream, Prefuse 73 was a wet dream for lovers of the technical and esoteric, but too much of a spluttering headache for many more.
With fifth set Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, Herren is in contemplative mode, banishing MCs nearly altogether. Happy to sit still for more than a few minutes, strains of real emotion are allowed to the surface, the hyperactivity tempered with a harmonic, lyrical quality. Though unmistakeably a Prefuse 73 album, ESTTA puts forward a Human After All-style statement of intent – as if the all digital trickery has reached its limit. Laced with a psychedelic coda that sends the LP off into a dreamlike loop, it evokes the ethereal soundscapes of Sigur Rós above any typical hip-hop influence.
The cover art, a B-movie-style illustration of a cosmonaut venturing into an alien landscape, is synonymous with the mood of adventure. Any semblance of a ‘traditional’ hip-hop beat is mangled into this disorienting world of Martian nursery rhymes and warped merry-go-rounds.
Because of its cLOUDDEAD-esque experimentalism and departure from hip-hop state of mind, ESTTA is unlikely to be heralded by the mainstream. It sits more happily in the collections of underground heads who prefer Definitive Jux and Stone’s Throw to Def Jam and Roc-a-Fella, and fans of the now not-so-obscure indie scenes surrounding Battles and TV On The Radio.
For all the luscious elements, wow-making beats and beautifully crafted snippets, the turnover of ideas can still be too rapid and arbitrary, thus epitomising the key charge held against this artist: that for all his libraries of beats and ideas, the end product can lack depth of feeling, leaving the listener disoriented and indifferent. It's a matter of personal taste, but Herren has largely shaken off these doubts with a rich and intriguing piece of work, the strengths of Everything She Touched... largely outweighing any reservations towards this sonically evocative album.
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