Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian
By Chet Betz | 4 May 2009
I once did an ill-advised/lazy review of a Count Bass D record where I just wrote my initial reactions to the tracks as I gave the album a play-through. If I tried to do that with Scott Herren’s latest exploration of his glitch-hop Prefuse 73 identity, I’d end up with a string of ooh’s and aah’s and typed-out shrugs—with maybe a pause or two for a longer ooooh or aaaah. Sadly, this would probably suffice.
Nearly 30 tracks with many of them clocking in at the time it’d take to chuck a Savath & Savalas album in the trash, Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian represents a pronounced shift in presentation, if not so much in paradigm. The album cover taps into some ’70s sci-fi pulpism, the title is a ’70s sci-fi pulpish reference to Herren using this release to eschew digital recording and send his overabundance of good but not exceptional ideas directly to Ampex tape (oh, Guillermo, you rebel!), and I guess the music itself is supposed to sound like a slightly schizo DJ set from another planet. But, basically, the music sounds like Prefuse 73. It’s funny how many of us felt Herren was one of our most forward-thinking producers the moment Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives (2001) dropped yet the dude’s done everything but progress since then. Hell, that debut sounds revolutionary compared to this. Which isn’t to say that this is bad, just that hacking at bigger concepts to make a bunch of smaller ones, going analog, and flashing a nifty cover doesn’t disguise the fact that nothing, essentially, has changed.
Vocal samples loop-de-looped or choked, funk synth tones pushed through a dirty sieve, crackly/tinny percussion, a bunch of experimentation that’s not really experimental but Prefusian…yup, it’s all here. And a lot of it still impresses: “Rubber Stems” burbles like Herren found 40 seconds of genius soundtrack from an early videogame underwater stage; “Fingertip Trajectories” is a remarkably effective ply of murky downbeat and repeated high notes; “Nature’s Uplifting Revenge” (the only extravagant title that really works) pumps up the volume on some Popol Vuh like it’s Aguirre: Banger Version. And the other tracks that sound like videogames are also cool.
But, fundamentally, the only thing that brings all these tracks together is the fact that Prefuse wanted them together (well, that and they’re all so Prefuse-y). There’s none of the conceptual panache aptly described by the title Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives or even the heartbreak coursing through One Word Extinguisher (2003). I don’t know, there’s a feeling that maybe Herren’s trying to evoke some Donuts (2006) magic but because of some jarring segues and an inconsistent mood (the opening stretch up through “Sexual Fantasy Scale” is disjointed enough to give a contortionist pause), it kind of feels like he’s forcefully spoon-feeding us one bite at a time whereas Dilla baked an assortment of “donuts” and let the whole couple dozen and a half sit before us, let us take in the smell and then enjoy it, all the flavors and warmth together in one eternal moment in which Dilla can never die (should’ve given it an 88%).
I mean, it’s refreshing to hear Herren at least trying after the wash that was Preparations (2007) but this new sprawl of a record is one that’s much easier to appreciate and respect than it is to feel. As an artist Herren’s caught in that limbo between trying to get out of a rut and knowing that trying too hard only digs the hole deeper. I think there’s hope, though. Herren’s peer Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet) had been going through something of a stagnant period but has just released a split with Burial where he tries his hand at dubstep and—who’d have thunk it—ends up delivering his most structurally elegant, most aesthetically striking, and just plain illest track since “Liquefaction” off 1999’s Dialogue. The lesson to be learned for Herren is that he mustn’t try to transform the things around him so much as allow his environment or at least his self-imposed parameters to transform him and his art. So that the things he touches are not changed but used for and according to their own purpose and worth. So that “Prefusian” is something much bigger than its namesake and not so easy to parse. So I can get back to loving what this guy does.