It's the same old sun
I like the idea of being 16 again, and arguing in the school playground that the White Stripes are cooler than the Strokes, and that Detroit is, in 2001, more rock'n'roll than NYC. And then again, I like the idea that it's 21 years since I was 16, and I am quite happy listening to Frank Sinatra singing for only the lonely, and so set 'em up Joe...
I am sure if I was 16 now I would vow that we are living through some golden age. I am sure me, here and now, could contest that music is over. Either stance is cool, but I am going to be horribly reasonable. The occasional new thing will appeal or excite, and I never want to give up hoping that! What does interest me is how the appealing and exciting will register.
A word to the wise here, a wiseguy's words overheard there. A song surprises on the radio, a review intrigues against the odds. Loyalty to a known name, imprint, association, or a reckless gamble because something connects.
I guess the Prefuse 73 set on Warp Records falls into a few of those categories, but for me the real selling point was the presence of Sam Prekop. I am not a huge fan of collaborations. You get stuff like, yeah, The Automator's cool, and then he goes and records with the Allbran guy. Yet, the presence of Sam Prekop on any record is the highest possible recommendation for the guy is God. Just in case anyone doesn't know, Sam sings for the Sea and Cake and creates thee most gorgeous, hazy pop moods, and I have written plenty about this elsewhere.
So, would I have bought Prefuse 73's vocal studies and uprock narratives if I was unaware of Prekop's presence? A good question, and the most answer is 'probably'. Any Warp release is a temptation of sorts, and let's celebrate the fact that so far down the line their track record is astonishing. I had also heard and read enough about the Prefuse 73 record to know it was the work of Atlantan Scott Herren, and that Warp last year released the set he put out as Sarath and Savalas. This was a record that slipped through the net, but it caught my eye on account of the title 'folk songs for trains, trees and honey', which may make sense to some people. God only knows trains needed folk songs late last year!
It was a strange, low key record. It may not rip you apart like Bob Dylan singing 'When He Returns', but then again it's a million time better than the rest of Slow Train Coming! Ostensibly Herren put together a set that sounded like Tortoise/Sea and Cake out takes broadcast and subsequently taped off a cheap world band radio with plenty of interference and interruptions from a station playing mad hip hop stuff. At first it sounded slightly dated (though in fairness the tracks were recorded in 1998 partly), but its unassuming beauty bloomed over time where more flashy works may have faded fast.
Herren is a character who adopts and adapts different guises, and Prefuse 73 is an affectionate attempt at taking hip hop to pieces and putting it together in a dramatically different way. Nothing earth shattering there, as every DJ and their shadow has done their bit of cutting and pasting. Now, I don't know about you, but I am not a great fan of turntablism. It comes across as dully as heavy rock guitar virtuosity, and leaves me cold. Herren seems to go more for electronically reconstructing the hip hop elements he has put through the shredder. Again, he ain't the first to do so and won't be the last, but he wears it well and creates an agreeably melodic music with the flavours the name suggests (pre 1973 fusion!) so you hear echoes of Stanley Clarke and George Duke with their afros and whatever.
While jazz funk may have sucked he blood ands fire out of drum'n'bass, and drowned much electronica in synth washes, this set keeps its own edge and tang. This should be no surprise when name checks for El-P (ex- Company Flow) and the Divine Styler suggest where Herren is coming from. Though as Rakim said, it's not where you're from, it's where you're at, and I like where Herren's at.
By the way, the liaison with Mighty Sam is the closest the set comes to a straight song, and shuffles along nicely in an Inspiration Information kind of way. It would sound great oozing out of the radio any time of day, but you know that's unlikely to happen.
Having said that, just to contradict myself, I did hear a couple of tracks from the Panoptica CD on the radio, and on both occasions I was hooked without realising what I was hearing. What I heard was enough to send me in search of the record, though I suspect again I may have let things be had I had just read the reviews. Like Prefuse 73, the Panoptica set has been given plenty of media coverage. It's a good story: young gut puts together a set of electronica with a twist by adding his local Tijuana/Mexican flavourings. On paper, no different perhaps than the many digital ethnic experiments that fill up the review pages of Straight No Chaser, except that sub editors had plenty of scope with puns. I confess I anticipated something a little kitsch and cheesy, though I am delighted to be wrong!
The CD (or 4 x 10" if you prefer) is out on Certificate 18, and that alone ought to have raised expectations. You should be able to get the Panoptica set for well under £10, and I would recommend it. if anything, minimalism is the musical tone rather than exotica. While several electronic bases (basses?) are touched. The suggestion is an almost Chain Reaction style austerity spiced up (see what I mean?) by the subtlest suggestion of South American rhythms and beats. It is the impressive understatement that delights and drags you back for more. If occasionally the emphasis is a little too much on the full throttle formal house rules for my own liking, there are enough other adventures in beats'n'rhythms to set the pulses racing.
So, Prefuse 73 and Panoptica provide the soundtrack for what at the time of writing is a stunner of a summer, and if they ain't going to change the world, that's okay. The sun ain't exactly novel either, but it sure feels good. After all, there are still plenty of hours left for listening to the White Stripes and Frank Sinatra.
© Kevin Pearce