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Prefuse 73 - Sacrifices Music Album Reviews

Prefuse 73 - Sacrifices Music Album Reviews
Returning to his best-known alias, the veteran hip-hop deconstructionist scales back his approach, but Sacrifices can feel slight, with songs that too often fade into the background.

Prefuse 73 principal Guillermo Scott Herren never sits still. He first made his name as a trailblazer: Arriving just a few years after DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing… popularized the idea of instrumental hip-hop, Herren helped push the budding subgenre into the laptop age. For a moment, he stood at the nexus of crate-diggers and knob-twisters, crafting music that was glitchy enough for the Warp roster yet rooted in the melodies of long-forgotten records. But, like Shadow, Herren frustrated fans by abandoning his signature sound at its peak, instead following his muse wherever it led: big-name collaborations, baroque electro-psych, goofy hip-hop, an album's worth of minute-long snippets. After years of waning interest from fans and even the artist (who has been almost equally prolific under aliases like Savath y Savalas, Ahmad Szabo, and Piano Overlord), Herren recently found his way back to Prefuse 73’s core sound. One gets the sense that he’s making up for lost time: In 2015, he released an album and three EPs under the Prefuse name, and he now returns with the full-length Sacrifices.

Continuing in the back-to-basics vein of recent Prefuse 73 releases, Sacrifices finds Herren peeling back the layers of his sound in an attempt to further isolate its foundation. At its best, Sacrifices reminds us that subtlety and restraint were qualities that once set Herren apart from his peers. “Late to the Party” wobbles and soars, a stuttering theme for a postmodern silent film. A fuzzed-out dancefloor anthem, "Her Desire Is to Be Left Alone” showcases the deft hand with which Herren manipulates vocal samples. “The World Is Bigger” feels like a bubbly curio you might discover after a deep fall down the SoundCloud rabbit hole, while “Dripping With Excuses” takes its title literally, sounding like a field recording of droplets of water falling off stalactites and onto a marimba.

But at nearly an hour in length, Sacrifices struggles to maintain this level of quality. The album’s lone vocal track, “Silver & Gold,” featuring R&B singer James Tillman, lands firmly in the “easy listening” lane, somewhere between Seal and Coldplay at their drowsiest. To be fair, Herren has flirted with this sort of sound before, say, on Rivington Não Rio’s Rob Crow collaboration, “Quiet One,” or even “Last Night,” his original indie-baiting crossover with Sam Prekop. But here, nestled among so many airy, laid-back, vaguely jazzy compositions, it’s hard to say that it feels like an outlier. Leave Sacrifices on for its full runtime and its songs will first bleed together, then recede into the background. This makes for great music to write emails to, but it’s not likely to sustain many listeners’ active interest for very long.

Herren’s willingness to continually rethink his approach is commendable, though it has made for a frustratingly uneven catalog. Where Rivington Não Rio reminded us of the qualities that made Herren one of the beat scene’s first stars, Sacrifices strips away too many of those traits. Its songs often feel slight and lack the tension, dynamics, and emotional heft of his best work. In the years since Herren first emerged, plenty of descendants have stepped in to fill the lane that he ceded, including Flying Lotus, Shlohmo, and Hudson Mohawke. But Sacrifices doesn’t feel like it’s in conversation with any of these artists. Instead, it too often recalls a different contemporary trend: the inoffensive whirr of made-for-playlists “chill.”

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