When murmurs of a collaboration between Scott Herren of Prefuse 73 and the Books began surfacing just before the release of Herren’s latest under the Prefuse moniker, Surrounded By Silence, it seemed like a perfect match.
Herren’s reputation still seemed fairly untouchable, riding high on the success of the glitch-hop masterpiece One Word Extinguisher and the subsequent collection of outtakes and unfinished tracks from the album, Extinguished, which still rivaled most hip-hop production of the day with its colorful melodies and virgin-tight drumming.
The Books were also working on a new album, Lost and Safe, which was slated for release just a few weeks later. The album, much like Herren’s, was garnering a decent amount of anticipation after the highly acclaimed release of their mix-mash of found-sound, electronica, and symphony, The Lemon of Pink, had gained significant critical acclaim.
It seemed like one of those unique, rarely-seen collaborations that might actually work. Prefuse’s percussion could balance The Books’ experimental tendencies while each of their distinct ears for melody would play off each other in an undoubtedly interesting way. This was, however, before both their respective LPs dropped last Spring. The release of both Prefuse 73 and The Books latest albums showed that both had evolved into something different than what they had collectively come to be known for.
With Surrounded by Silence Prefuse 73 lost the razor-sharp edge that his previous work was laden with opting instead for a more airy, scattered album that was tinged with Spanish folk from Herren’s ethnic background. Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of the Books also took a different approach with their release utilizing more vocals and song structure than their previous releases had represented.
The resulting collaboration, Prefuse 73’s Reads the Books EP, is a scatterbrained collection of nearly-there tracks that fade in and out of consciousness throughout the EP’s 23 minute tenure. Separated into eight segments, paginas uno through ocho respectively, the entire pamphlet of remixes just feels like it could have been a lot better.
The points at which the EP is most accessible shine through brightly. “Pagina Dos”, which is also featured on Prefuse 73’s latest LP, features rolling drums, lightly plucked strings, and chopped up vocals that paint a very serene yet upbeat musical scene.
“Pagina Cinco” stands out as a climax to the album, displaying both artists’ talent in its purest form. Herren demonstrates that he can still program drums that sound better than most live percussion and the Books’ chopped up string work is exemplary. Tracks like these are perfect examples of two artists collaborating and creating harmony between each other while firmly retaining their identities.
While the rest of the album does have its perks, see the ratchety percussion on “Pagina Seis” or Claudia Dehaza’s soothing vocals on “Pagina Ocho”, it suffers from a lack of focus. More often than background noises become distracting and beats become overly repetitive, and damn near identical on some tracks. The difference between the beats on “Pagina Tres” and “Pagina Cinco” isn’t a far cry from the difference between Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”.
But hey, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dee-dah is completely different from dah-dah-dee-dah-dah-dee-dah right?
That set aside, Reads the Books reads like a tale of two warriors who couldn’t quite win the big battle, and are furiously polishing their tarnished armor to do battle again. The talent’s still there, but the arrow missed the mark this time.