Rocked in Translation
The new album from Savath & Savalas, aka Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, has something important to say, and despite the fact that they say it in Spanish and my Spanish is not so good, I seem to have stumbled upon a concise translation: Goodbye boredom! Apropa’t pulses with sensual rhythms, lush harmonies, and ethereal forms that weave together to create a truly amazing aural experience. Inspired by several months in Spain discovering his roots and new musical companions, Herren’s latest effort explodes with innovative textures and complex beats. As an amazing synthesis of electronic and organic timbres, this album stands out as one of electronica’s finest and most engaging moments.
It is difficult at times to distinguish between tracks on the album, and such distinctions often feel like arbitrary constructs of modern technology, which is not to say that the album runs along like an amorphous blob of sound. It ebbs and flows, but it also crescendos, following a logical and wholly satisfying progression. The album starts out as if S & S were quoting their label mates Autechre or Aphex Twin, but they immediately launch into the multi-tracked, reverb-laden vocals that become their modus operandi. The delicate strains of the chanting vocals form long, languid contours which create distinctive soaring melodies. These melodies are not so much hooks, although they are often catchy enough, but their main function seems to be to act as a framework for Herren’s beats which are exceptionally complex and surprising. The vocals are hardly delicate wallflowers, but they have a subtlety that is often lacking in Diva-driven trip-hop and other electronic styles. The beats, to put it bluntly, are breathtaking. Herren is a master of weaving together layers upon layers of timbres and tones as he does both here and on his work as Prefuse 73. As S & S, however, he doesn’t limit himself to hip-hop tones only, but explores the more exotic and unfamiliar tones inflected in those sultry Spanish verandas (or, so I imagine, anyhow). Tracks like “Por Que Ella Vino?” demonstrate his striking ability to synthesize the organic tones of plucked Spanish guitars along with generated distortions. Sounding each tone at just the right moment, with just the right intensity, creates the illusion that instead of hearing a complex matrix of various tones one really hears one musician playing some sort of boundless and vast instrument of the cosmos. The melding of these diverse tones is done so carefully and cautiously that it is never disconcerting. When the flow is broken it is done so purposefully and to such a wonderful effect, as on “Dejame” where the whole timbre of the piece is disrupted, breaking the listener from his/her reverie in an unexpected diversion from the droning chant heard everywhere else.
The album builds to a crescendo right around the middle. The high point is “Um Girassol Da Cor De Seu Cabelo”, which resonates with a beat and funky baseline that rocks in every sense of the word. The orchestration which elsewhere on the album ranges widely is at this moment distilled into piano, drums, bass, and the occasional shimmering synth sound. The song is the perfect example, and really the consummation of the tension that explodes all over the album. The drums lay dormant on the verse until they explode on the chorus to pound out a cathartic rock beat. This almost ascetic restraint creates highs that build to unimaginable intensity as it becomes impossible to tell at what point it might fall away, along with lows that churn with such burning potential since one cannot predict at what point the high will start to build anew.
Everywhere the album pulses with this energy, creating soundscapes that are so brilliant and illuminated that I often felt an uncontrollable urge to close my eyes against the glare. Yet, this restraint is at times a bit dissatisfying. The vocals seem reluctant to stray from their Gregorian chant timbre, fearful of obliterating that delicate balance between the raging current of beats and the gentle flow of the melody, with the result that on occasion the listener hopes for something more. Indeed, the timbre of the whole album is so consistent and so undifferentiated that on the surface it can seem a bit dull. Yet, there is so much to listen for, and just when it seems like boredom might take hold the flow is disrupted. Even without all the ingenious nuances, the variety in the melody and emotive qualities of the music overall seem to be enough to satisfy even the pickiest pop gourmands. Apropa’t is the sort of album that will yield new fruit with every listen, which is to say, it is the sort of album that must be bought immediately. So, go, now, quickly before all those teenyboppers in Stereolab teeny-T’s grab it! Ok, maybe not. But, if you don’t buy the new Savath & Savalas, it will hurt you more than it will hurt me.