Sam is the Music Director at Radio 1190 and shares some of his favorite records from his collection in this weekly feature.
As many individuals have said before me, actions speak louder than words. Where words can be rearranged and honed in syntax with intended meaning and effect, actions are more difficult to sculpt to gratify people in given situations.
Writing a breakup album without words is a mission that requires intense sincerity, as Guillermo Scott Herren — Prefuse 73 — unquestionably understands. I say ‘without words’ in the general sense, as anyone who’s listened to “One Word Extinguisher” knows that within its first two minutes, Herren’s 2003 masterpiece features two separate rappers delivering verses with frantic bombast. Rather, “One Word Extinguisher” is unique in the sense that it does contain vocal samples and guest features, but Herren goes out of his way to separate the other voices from his singular presence, warm and elastic yet constantly doubting itself with motorized anguish.
From the first batch of songs that bring us into the immediate aftermath of Herren’s abandonment — the rowdy MC’s tempting him to distraction–, “Uprock and Invigorate a Prefuse” sets the atmosphere for the rest of the journey. Keyboard and bass lines dance around the notes they should be settling on, while a drum machine struggles underneath, sputtering out as it marches towards its bleak precipice.
Words emerge again from the haze in “Dave’s Bonus Beats,” where Herren’s friend calls a non-answering Prefuse to provide him his outsourced beats, immediately to segue into the most spacious track Herren’s produced yet. Slow, jazzy keys float amid clicks and screwball noises while a choir refuses to let the hero rest. For perhaps the first time in the album, the separation of the beat, vocals, and the music pinning down the track becomes overwhelmingly apparent.
Moments of relief appear on tracks like “Busy Signal” and “The Color of Tempo,” where bouncing beats counterbalance their soft melodies, while the wailing sine waves of “Detchibe” and sighing chorus of the title track remind us of the struggle taking place. By the time we’ve reached the late album highlight “Choking You,” Herren seems ready to break. High pitched warning lights flash as the smooth synthesizers that lined the record carefully begin to dissolve into their synthetic origins. The purposefully lengthy album brings us to its emotional lowest at the 45-minute mark, before the beautiful “Styles That Fade Away With a Collonade Reprise” settles the arc on a refreshingly open-ended note.
The album marks a critical point in the merging of hip-hop and electronic music as the new millennium began to unfold. Artists like DJ Vadim and Boards of Canada had separately brought Bristol sensibilities to an underground culture hungry for more artificiality in their music, but with “One Word Extinguisher” Herren mixed in the glitchy refinery of his Warp associates to make a direct personal statement with his turntables.
The art form had been established, and it was about time someone used it to make something completely specific to themselves. Through the course of the album, Herren’s friends, memories, and demons attempt to reassure him and steer him down the proper path to recovery, but they are ultimately all silenced by the honesty his music conveys. When emotions as blurry and self-contradicting as depression, love, and loss are so sincerely depicted in Herren’s art, what’s the point of words?
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.