I hate to be the one to break this, but anyone expecting the mad and frantic cut-and-pastes featured in previous works by Prefuse 73’s Scott Herren is bound to be a bit disappointed with his latest offering, The Only She Chapters. This new album has been described elsewhere as a kind of concept record, one that only features female vocalists in the mix (though I swear I can hear some very heavily processed masculine voices deep on the album’s first track) and one that features songs that all begin with the words “The Only … “. However, you would be hard pressed to find the concept from this Atlanta producer as most of the tracks (10 out of a total of 18) on this 54-minute affair are instrumental, or else usually feature his female vocalists buried deep in the mix (something of a Prefuse 73 trademark).
If there is any overriding, over-arching grand design to The Only She Chapters, it would be that Herren has made what can be essentially called an ambient album, as the songs are quiet and lush — sort of the soundtrack to foreplay — and there is very little variation between the tracks. Therein lies the disappointment because, while The Only She Chapters is a sonically consistent affair, everything pretty much runs together after awhile and there isn’t really a track that you could lift from this record and put on a mix CD. The Only She Chapters is an artistic statement, an album for the sake of being an album; you might want to award some points to Herren for that. However, the disc is not altogether a successful enterprise simply because — and this may seem like sacrilege when it comes to talking about Prefuse 73 considering the sample-heavy density and frantic pacing of his earliest output — the disc is, well, boring. There’s not enough on The Only She Chapters that is engaging, and everything coalesces into a gigantic sphere of white noise with beats that crawl as slowly as a turtle. In other words, there is very little bang for your buck to be found here.
The album’s biggest let-down and its most blatantly squandered opportunity lies with the song “The Only Trial of 9000 Suns”. The reason? The track is one of the last things that the late Trish Keenan from Broadcast committed to tape, so I was hoping for something of a eulogy, something that would have been a nice send-off for the singer into the great beyond. Instead, Keenan is barely there, hidden and looped behind busy sound effects that careen wildly over the place. The song is so underwhelming that it’s as though Herron has himself taken the memory of Keenan out into his back yard, dug a hole, threw her in, and tossed dirt over top of it. That may seem like an unfair thing to say because I’m sure Herren wasn’t expecting Keenan to die on him when he recorded the track, given her sudden and tragic succumbing to pneumonia last January, but the song goes absolutely nowhere and is simply nearly four minutes of noodling — so you can’t help but wish that Herren had done more with the singer’s talents. It’s a disaffirming song to listen to simply as a result of the bare inaudibility of Keenan’s marvellous ethereal voice. Alas, no. “The Only Trial of 9000 Suns” is mere wallpaper on an album surrounded by songs that are as indistinguishable from one another as the individual flakes in a 20 foot snow pile. It’s a real throwaway, which is a shame because Keenan should have deserved so much better.
With that out of the way, there are a few moments on The Only She Chapters which are engaging. “The Only Hand to Hold”, which features My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, is a folksy number with actual discernable lyrics (one of the only tracks on the album to feature such an extravagance) and the closest thing to anything resembling a single on The Only She Chapters. The track lurches forward slowly with the sound of vinyl pops and scratches providing a bit of a beat alongside a lovely looped acoustic guitar, and there’s a tinge of Richard and Linda Thompson in the song’s laid-back, slowly flowing feel. Additionally, the record’s penultimate track, the seven-minute long “The Only Repeat”, takes some of cooing female vocals that punctuate earlier bits of the album and weaves them into a hypnotic sonic tapestry. But that’s it. The rest of The Only She Chapters is filled with moody moments and textured soundscapes that make for sometimes pleasant background noise with the volume turned down, but that’s about all you can take away from the album.
Conclusively, The Only She Chapters is a really missed spectacle. The idea of making a record squarely centered on the feminine mystique is an appealing one, and there’s a certain audacity to a male hip-hop producer celebrating the female form. However, it’s as though Herren has nothing to say with this record, that he’s run out of ideas, and has to rely on lackadaisical beats and a glacial pace to extend the running time of this product to the lengths reached by his previous output. As a result, The Only She Chapters is a frustrating, unrewarding listen. Had Herren been in less of an experimental mode, he might have created a masterpiece that would have rivaled the Bible’s the Song of Songs in its appraisal of the beauty of women. Instead, what we wind up with here is actually quite garish at times, and a formless mass of anti-septic, unchallenging techno dabbling when taken as a whole. The album is full of weak tracks filled with a maelstrom of static and clipped or echo-chambered female vocals that are about as appealing as gruel. While that may be harsh, and The Only She Chapters certainly has its instances of grandeur here and there, the entirety of the exercise is so laborious and ponderous that you have to wonder if this concept would have been better served as a highly pruned EP. That’s just another way of stating the obvious: The Only She Chapters is strictly for those who are already die-hard fans of Prefuse 73 and not really anybody else.