Prefuse 73 & The Books
Prefuse 73 Reads The Books
t’s obvious, really. Take two artists with very similar approaches to making music—a dense mix of samples and live instrumentation—and have them collaborate. The result is like a high-quality mashup, with glitch-hop mastermind Scott Herren adding a rap backbone to The Books’ simple string pluckings and breathy buzzscapes. Both projects already exist in the hazy netherworld of obscure voice samples: The Books quietly summon their ephemeral characters in order to let them speak in an altered context, whereas Herren forcibly cuts and chops the ghosts of hip-hop’s past from their vinyl graves.
The eight tracks of Prefuse 73 Reads The Books are numbered in Spanish, and arranged as pages—an appropriate move, as these short pieces don’t warrant being called chapters. As pages, though, they work—each has a definable mood that is related to but distinct from the others, and the cumulative effect is something like a short story. Co-authored texts in any medium can often be a mess, but if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, The Books’ quiet intelligence combines with Herren’s blistering cadences as naturally as salt and pepper. The prominence given to big, head nodding beats leads one to assume Herren was holding the pen, so to speak, but it’s also easy to imagine Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong sitting atop Prefuse’s cinder-block percussion with a laptop and a guitar, happily picking and tapping away.
The minds behind this piece immediately make their presence known. The intro has a couple of cute “signatures”: misshapen clatter that turns into applause, a loud funk sample that says “do it right,” a cello warming up. Self-conscious, sure, but it manages to reference both Herren and The Books’ distinct styles, as well as the collage aesthetic where those styles intersect—not bad, considering it’s only eight seconds long. This segues into “Pagina Dos,” as featured on the most recent Prefuse full-length, Surrounded By Silence. Scattershot plucked strings and a trademark neck-snapping Herren beat bristle as Zammuto’s gauzy voice is warped and swirled about—it’s the sound of rural and urban Americana intersecting, as imagined by artsy pranksters who place equal value on their textbooks and televisions.
The rest of the tracks follow this outline—“Pagina Tres” sounds like a MIDI banjo, blindfolded and trying to escape from a multidirectional assault of disembodied voices as a devious rhythm closes in, while “Pagina Seis” begins with the muted, strangely funky musique concrete that The Books do so well, coated with a subtle hiss-and-pop that slides into the kind of loping, synth-fogged groove the cLOUDDEAD boys love to submerge themselves in (a cameo from doseone wouldn’t have hurt at all). Only the last track, which constructs a gentle static rhythm surrounded by even more wriggling strings and the hushed voice of Claudia Maria Deheza (another Herren collaborator) eases up on the Prefuse beat pointillism, instead referencing the smoothness of Herren’s other notable project, Savath & Savalas. The change is refreshing and though it’s almost four minutes long, the song feels as though it’s just getting started when an echoing voice proclaims “Completo!”
If you grump about The Books recycling some of their samples or if you find Herren’s beats interesting but monotonous after a while, you’re likely to be somewhat put off by Prefuse 73 Reads The Books. That these songs sound like mashups to my ear is both their strength and their weakness—they’re good enough to remind you of the best work of the parties at hand, but the term implies that you’re not going to hear anything new, just two songs mashed together. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; when a mashup is carried off well, as displayed here, it can be a further refinement of two highly individual sounds, shaped together instead of separately.
Reviewed by: Ethan White
Reviewed on: 2005-07-19