Prefuse 73: Forsyth Gardens
Prefuse 73: Rivington Não Rio
Rivington Não Rio is being pitched as a return to form for Guillermo Scott Herren's Prefuse 73 project, a supposed reinvigoration that naturally prompts one to ponder precisely where and when things turned sideways in the first place. For a while there, Herren could do no wrong, with 2003's One Word Extinguisher and the companion set Extinguished: Outtakes presenting peak moments in the Prefuse saga. But then troubling signs emerged: at the end of 2005's Surrounded By Silence, the cacophonous mashup “And I'm Gone” (on which the vocals of Broadcast's Trish Keenan collide with drum clatter and vocal choirs) hinted at an artistic sensibility losing focus and control, and the subsequent EP Security Screenings showed a dramatic drop in quality that was hard to ignore. Though a recovery of sorts was effected on 2007's Preparations and 2009's Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, neither was able to equal the heady heights of One Word Extinguisher.
Well, however it came about, Rivington Não Rio truly does show Herren having regained focus and Prefuse 73 back in top form. It's something of which Herren himself is aware, as evidenced by his comment, “I've come back to hyper focusing—immersing myself in the sounds, rhythms, and formations that created Prefuse 73 in the first place.” And not for the first time, a flood of music seems to be pouring out of him, as signified by the fact that Rivington Não Rio isn't his only new release; instead, it's the central part in a triptych that also includes the EPs Forsyth Gardens and the soon-to-be-released Every Color of Darkness.
A key reason why the new material sounds so strong is because Herren's returned to what he does best: panoramic, hip-hop-driven beatmaking rich in instrumental colour, melody, and imagination. His bravado as a sound designer remains very much in place and so too is his characteristic restlessness. As an indication of the album's quality, “Applauded Assumptions” wouldn't sound out of place on One Word Extinguisher, especially when it's goosed by one of those signature Prefuse beats. Voices, handclaps, vibes, and synthesizers swirl in a trippy mix that's dense but not so much so that it becomes oppressive or overbearing.
Instrumentals and vocal cuts rub shoulders, with Jessie Ware collaborator Sam Dew, Pinback's Rob Crow, and Latin crooner Helado Negro among the vocal guests. Crow's smooth delivery turns “Quiet One” into one of the album's most accessible pop-styled productions, while, with Dew and Negro respectively aboard, the swooning “Infrared” and “See More Than Just Stars” become prototypically entrancing Prefuse propositions. Drenched in strings, vibes, synths, and beats, the luscious instrumental set-pieces “Through a Lit and Darkened Path (Pts. 1+2)” and “Inside” show Herren's gifts as an arranger haven't deserted him. Still, as good as it is, Rivington Não Rio isn't without an occasional misstep. Though “140 Jabs Interlude,” for instance, harks back to the MC-driven Surrounded By Silence in featuring vicious rhymes by Milo & Busdriver, the tune ends up leaving a sour taste when its needlessly vulgar verses briefly soil an otherwise stellar collection.
Though they're complementary collections, the EP feels a tad secondary when heard alongside Rivington Não Rio (hinting at a derivative nature, “Infrared” re-appears on Forsyth Gardens in a remix version that, a few cut-up vocal treatments aside, isn't markedly different from the one on the album). That being said, Forsyth Gardens has many strong moments, and the EP, which adds a half-hour of music to the album's forty-four minutes, doesn't sully the impression left by Rivington Não Rio. Forsyth Gardens also boasts a generous number of fine instrumentals, among them “You Are Now Poison” and “Ages Upon Ages Upon You,” and Herren operates at the height of his Prefuse powers in “Still Pretending” and “What They Got?” If there's a difference between the two releases, it's that Forsyth Gardens seems to capture Herren indulging his experimental side a little bit more. But even when he pushes it further, he never goes too far, one more sign of the clearheadedness Herren brought to the production of this latest material.