Savath and Savalas

Apropa't

(Warp; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

I must admit that I started listening to Scott Herren relatively recently, making last year's pair of Prefuse 73 albums something of a revelation. Both the anguished One Word Extinguisher and almost-equally-brilliant Extinguished: Outtakes showed why Herren earned such a strong reputation for his unbelievable beats and terrific sampling and added an emotional weight that has rarely been seen in hip-hop, especially of the instrumental sort.

The emotional purge of One Word Extinguisher and his subsequent move to Barcelona (seemingly brought on by the former and the weight of never meeting his Spanish father, to whom the album is dedicated) have inspired a much more guarded Herren on his latest project with Savath & Savalas. Although much of his work has never been overly accessible, Apropa't seems to be taking pains to be well-removed from the listener.

To start things off, this is by no means a Prefuse 73 record. There are some interesting beats, programming, and instrumentation but this falls much more in the world music bin than in hip-hop. Inspiration comes largely from afro-latin jazz and focuses on vocals, whereas Herren's strength has always been making the vocals become secondary, or at least equal, to the beats. The record's star is really Eva Puyuelo Muns who shares songwriting credits with Herren on all the original compositions and who takes lead vocal duties throughout the album, singing in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan. Herren, credited on the album as Guillermo Scott Herren, sings back-up vocals and does an impressive job with production and arrangements, but never really lets his beat-making abilities shine.

This album seems to be less about lyrical content or technical mastery than tone, and in that it succeeds quite well. There is something distinctly cold and sterile about the album -- Puyuelo's delivery is clear but removed and Herren's whispered back-up vocals don't seek to add any intimacy to the songs. The whole album is drenched in atmosphere but unlike a Loveless or Oh, Inverted World where this served to drag the listener in, here it just serves as another layer of noise, albeit gorgeous, well-played noise.

Apropa't begins with a deceptive burst of glitch in "Introducción" but then settles into the lightly plucked guitar lines that tend to dominate the album. "Te Quiero Pero por otro Lado…" builds in some nice drum grooves in it's second half but you begin to realize at some point that they aren't building to anything-there are, with few exceptions, no climaxes to these tracks.

The first half of the album all flows together well, but the lack of differentiation becomes apparent. "Balcón sin Flores" sets itself apart somewhat with a good horn section at the end, but the tracks generally fade into each other. The standout on the record is without question the sole cover, "Um Girassol da Cor de Seu Cabelo." The song of course also doesn't fit for the most part with the formula of the rest of the album-here Herren lets the beats ride a bit deeper and throws things into a minor key, building the track into a darkly sinister groove.

The distortion and delays on vocals for "Radio Llocs Espacials" make it a bit more interesting. Herren's strong lead vocals on "Víctima Belleza" add to the otherwise dull track. The album ends with "Sigue Tu Camino (No Sabes Amar....)," a declaration of the unloving nature of a partner who is leaving.

That, of course, is kind of the central idea of the album. Years of education in the Spanish language finally paid off for this review (we here at cokemachine are all required to have fluency in at least one foreign language; word is Goldstein mastered German for the Franz Ferdinand review only to be horribly surprised by the Anglophonic nature of the album) and through careful review of the liner notes (and even precursory listening to the album) it becomes exceedingly clear this is another quasi-break-up album from Herren. Any track titled "Déjame" (literally "leave me") can't be overly upbeat or love-filled. The lyrics are overwrought with emotion and the subdued, dark textures of the album eventually come off as not much more than listless depression on Herren's part.

This is not to say that Apropa't is not an interesting and worthwhile album. Puyuelo shines throughout the album, and the arrangements and productions that Herren has devised are quite impressive. However, the lack of ingenuity (surprising considering ingenuity is something we've come to expect from Herren) and rather set tone of the album certainly detract from the overall effect. I'm curious to see Savath & Savalas live (they are touring North America this spring) so as to better judge the project, but all in all I'm hoping Herren hasn't permanently left Prefuse 73 and that brand of magic behind.