The second of three releases for 2015, Rivington Nao Rio finds Guillermo Herren testing his ability as collaborator and producer, and ever-so-slightly evolving his acoustic-tinged electronic formula.
Guillermo S. Herren, aka Prefuse 73, returns this month with his first full length album in four years, bringing back his elusive brand of electronic mostly unchanged from the sound of his 2011 release The Only She Chapters. That's not to say that Herren hasn't evolved throughout his career, as his sound has become increasingly removed from the fragmented hip-hop drone of his One Word Extinguisher days, moving instead towards more acoustic territory while still making use of his signature fractured beats and dissonant soundscapes. But what is immediately apparent on Herren's latest release, Rivington Nao Rio, is a newfound focus on bringing melody, previously buried underneath whirring electronics and layers of samples on earlier releases, to the fore. The knock on Prefuse 73 from the outset had always been a perceived lack of immediacy, thereby making his records much tougher nuts to crack than those by his early '00s contemporaries like Four Tet, Boom Bip, and Daedelus.
Whether or not Rivington is a direct challenge to those early assessments is unimportant this late in the game, but what is very clear is Herren's decision to create more obvious points of entry for new listeners in the form of, you guessed it, melodies. Rivington starts things off with what we've come to expect from Prefuse, in the form of the fairly standard IDM workout "Applauded Assumptions", pulsing with jazz textures and stuttering 808 hits that have become typical of the Prefuse palette. But the first real break from Herren's past output arrives on the album's third track, "Quiet One", featuring a vocal contribution from Pinback's Rob Crow. With its sliced-up acoustic samples and reverb-soaked guitars, it ends up sounding less like a Prefuse track with a guest spot, and more like a true collaboration between the two artists, which suits them both rather well. "Quiet One" is also perhaps the most "song-like" track released under Prefuse 73's name, sporting a fairly traditional verse-chorus structure and gently descending melody lifted straight from 2004's Summer in Abaddon.
Speaking of collaborations, there are plenty on Rivington, four out of the album's 11 tracks feature guest artists. Along with "Quiet One", the most successful collaboration is "Infrared", featuring Sam Dew, best known for his contributions to Wale's 2013 single "LoveHate Thing". Like "Quiet One" it works because Herren allows his guest to add their stamp to the song rather than confining them to a traditional guest appearance, which oddly enough, is why the other two collaborations on the record don't work. "140 Jabs Interlude" featuring rappers Milo and Busdriver sees their off-kilter lyrical styles clashing rather awkwardly with Herren's subdued electronics, and Helado Negro's turn on "See More Than Just Stars" is a case of two similar artists cancelling each other out for a rather unremarkable track.
But there is enough good stuff on here to satisfy Prefuse 73 fans who've waited patiently since 2011 for a new full length. "Jacinto Lyric Range" gracefully mixes a grimey two-step rhythm and heavenly synths, while the album's strongest track "Inside" is an effective piece of glistening folktronica that recalls the best of Four Tet's early career. There are dull moments as well, particularly on the string-heavy "Mojav Mating Call" that simply doesn't go anywhere, and "Open Nerve Farewells" which takes a BoC style analog-synth riff and promptly buries it underneath a cavalcade of electronic squelches and samples.
Rivington Nao Rio stands to be one of three Prefuse 73 releases in 2015, along with April's Forsyth Gardens and the forthcoming Every Color of Darkness. If this year's first two are any indication, we're learning that Herren is becoming the kind of electronic producer who works best with a more traditional songwriter, and if he can find the right partners, that may be just where he's headed entering the second decade of his recording career.