Ever since the release of 2001’s Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives, the half-lit recesses of music forums have frothed with contention as to whether Prefuse 73’s cut-up beats and sampled melodies quite constitute hip hop or not.
On the one hand Amazon says it does, helpfully classifying the band under Hip Hop and Rap, along with Q-Tip, Kanye West and, er, Portishead. On the other, a few anomalous snatches notwithstanding there’s no actual rapping here, so whilst this does mean that the music is mercifully free of the inane posturing and lyrical self-aggrandizing that so often blights the genre, it does rather put the boot into genre theory.
The most prominent of producer Scott Herren’s many musical aliases, Prefuse 73, like Four Tet, Caribou and DJ Shadow, merge heavy loops with eclectic samples and glitchy instrumentation, the band’s releases playing more as a bricolage of influences and sounds than a series of autonomous songs. So whilst the packaging names twenty-nine individual tracks, they ebb and mesh like a fever dream, static dirges blurring with discordant horns and half-heard mutter, propelled endlessly onwards by an erratic, restless nocturnal beat. This is less an album than a Malkovich portal into Herren’s mind, the multiple cultures and varied musical interests of his upbringing bleeding together and vying for attention, like the subsumed voices crying out as the T-1000 writhes within its death-throes at the close of Terminator 2.
So here we have Spanish guitar commingling with shrieking primates and screeching birds, chiming chords and orchestral lines, vocals that hang at the edge of the tracks like morning mist or siren-song: layers and ideas sharpen into clarity and drain back into white noise as though insects with just hours to live.
Seemingly taking advice from a sample on an earlier album, where an unnamed critic admonishes Herren for third album Surrounded By Silence (‘could you have any more guest spots on there?’), Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian eschews the vocal collaborations and endless ‘feat’ litanies in favour of a less commercial, more amorphous approach. With an average track length of a minute-forty, and only six that breach the three-minute mark, this competes with Micachu for who can best cater for the ADD crowd. But it’s more than just a collection of interludes, the brevity of the album’s individual components belying a depth and grandeur that much electronic music doesn’t even strive to attain.
It’s often an uneasy listen, though, with some of the loops grating more than they invigor, although Herren tempers the most discordant with melody and restraint: whilst the maddening key-changes of ‘No Lights Still Rock’ invoke aneurysm, ‘Simple Loop Choir’ pares the sound down to voices mournfully harmonizing, the machines holding back as though reverentially. At points it seems as though Herren’s previously discrete multiple musical personalities might be leaking into one another, with the industrial cacophony of tracks like ‘Get Em High’ giving way disarmingly, like Hyde back to Jeckyll, to a softness and subtlety hitherto associated with his Savath and Savalas side-project.
This isn’t an album seeking easy definition or casual listeners: the homogenous style and restive track lengths thwart the iTunes impulse for easy 79p singles and orgiastic singalongs, and this is too abrasive to be mere background music. Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian works best as a solipsistic listen, headphones on and imagination drifting untethered, not so much hip hop as a Pro-Tooled digression towards madness and enlightenment, the patchwork dissolve of glitches and beeps the firing and collapse of synapses and thoughts.