PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Prefuse 73: Surrounded by Silence

Pierre Hamilton

Prefuse 73 loses the magical touch, filling out this album's incoherent and gaping holes with guest appearances.

Prefuse 73

Surrounded by Silence

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2005-03-22
UK Release Date: 2005-03-21
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

Initial reviews of Surrounded by Silence were less than favorable. They claimed too many guest artists and too many recycled ideas had stifled Scott Herren's forward progression. I agree. At first, I decided not to purchase the album rather than risk disappointment. My bravado was of that typically afforded to ex-girlfriends with unresolved issues. In the face of criticism, I refused to budge, continually trotting out other's opinions as my own. That time is through.

Prefuse 73's 2003 debut album was a glitch-hop masterpiece. One Word Extinguisher struck a blow to the ego of emcees. It was an autistic work, communicating indecipherable messages which were sewn into the slivers of samples, devoured and regurgitated as glitches, hisses, and pops. I loved how Herren, as the anti-thesis of Prometheus, tore fire, and the mic, from the hands of emcees, returning it to its rightful place above the turntables with the true Gods of hip-hop: the DJs.

He allowed the emcee to rhyme, but he did so knowing their vocals would, at times, be diced into sound bite-sized morsels to be toyed with. Results varied, but overall it was a success -- a hijacking of epic proportions that went largely ignored by the mainstream. Only ears sympathetic to the ever-weakening stance of emcees, those inclined to prop up the DJ, could heed its call. Herren had stumbled upon a revolution, a music resembling the instantaneous qualities of binary code, creating harmony by marrying hip-hop to the jarring bits and bytes of computer cacophony.

Surrounded by Silence continues those thoughts, but with considerably less success. The songs themselves remain moody, temperamental, and largely instrumental, the sound of artificial things chopped up and painstakingly reassembled so as to draw attention to their creator. Though this time around, those ideas are communicated less effectively, less urgently, less forcefully.

Herren is very aware of how these songs are interpreted, for he's continually hauling out an alluring female voice on his most unnerving productions. "Pastel Assassins" does this, imbuing the song with a human element missing from other songs. And it occurs elsewhere on the album. Whether conscious or not, it rescues his most experimental pieces from being fragments of something and adds cohesion. Without them, Surrounded by Silence is noise that's incompatible with most listeners. Even then he can't keep his hands off the vocals, hacking them to pieces as the song nears its end.

"Hide Ya Face" unmasks the future of hip-hop as Ghostface Killa and EL-P trade lyrical barbs over a way-out space beat, chiming cow bells, and sluggish drum beat. Aesop Rock's appearance on "Sabbatical With Options" demonstrates that schizophrenic flow fits schizophrenic beats, while leaving clues to the fan base of an album as progressive as this. Masta Killa, Beans, and even the GZA show up, but their performances do nothing to detract from this lacklustre outing.

Often it's the shorter songs, of which there are six clocking in at less than two minutes, that ignite inspiration -- the sort of creation-through-disassembly that is hard-wired into this cross-cultural hodgepodge. Like on "Mantra Two" (featuring Tyondal Braxton), where Eastern chanting meets beat boxing, awakening in my ears a "ghetto mysticism". At longer lengths the jittery qualities of glitch-hop sputter, pushing patience towards intolerance. Having Herren interject a groove with grating samples is unsettling, even if it is to let you know he's at the helm. And when music that is itself sketchy to begin with rattles you from its more jarring elements, the result is confusion, a lack of understanding, and, sadly, disillusion.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.