As with any experimental pioneer, Prefuse 73, that blip-hop mad scientist we’ve come to know as the go-to guy for reliable “outro” party background noise, is a recovering burn victim. Last year’s Surrounded by Silence was demolished for its overcrowded and uninspired cameos, and only the most die-hard hipster art crowd could come to its defense with a straight face. Prefuse, the person, bounces back quickly with a new studio album and boasting a more focused and aggressive campaign. Prefuse, the artist, however, attempts only to veil himself even further from the world of critics and disappointed fans with an impenetrable, if gorgeous, wall of glitchy soundscapes from the depths of outsider solitude.
73′s most distinctive talent has always been to hint at the greatest echoes of every musical medium. This smorgasbord of notes arrives late on Screenings with “No Origin,” the frenzied tuning of a radio dial that allows just enough space to filter a jazz trumpet here, a plucky piano there, and bits of conversation melded together to reflect an overarching white noise that can only be biting metaphor.
Prefuse addresses last year’s critics in a couple of interludes that mock a typical interview with “illiterate” fanboys who only want to take him down a notch. They are, at best, distractions, and only serve to further illustrate the artist’s disillusionment with the music industry’s machine. What doesn’t wash is that Prefuse clearly takes pride in producing tracks for the enlightened; if you don’t “get” his style, you’re not really invited anyway. However, his website profiles the press he’s been privy to in the last few years, and the coverage (Pitchfork, Urb, XLR8R) hardly lends believability to his claims. This would be a small beef, and one chalked up to an artist’s right to be angry at no one in particular, if it didn’t inform so much of the new album. Prefuse sinks into these beats and they come off as not only the random shuffle in his mind that has set him apart for years, but as a comfort blanket/shield that wards off his inherent need to ground the work in realism. Consider “Weight Watching.” Here you have what approaches an actual hook, supported by a dreamy and well-textured digital ash; the clanking and clattering of what is surely a malfunctioning plumbing system, however, swiftly and utterly breaks the spell. It’s a defense mechanism not nearly as buried as his musical intentions and obscures the view of where the record stands as a whole.
There are moments of bliss on Security Screenings, and they arrive so hungrily anticipated that the dreaded critics Prefuse shies away from may lose their bearings for a moment. Tunde of TV on the Radio assists on “We Leave You In a Cloud of Thick Smoke and Sleep” and Prefuse’s brand of Sigur Ros Rap never seems more wide open and full of possibilities. “With Dirt and Two Texts (Afternoon Version)” is one of the only actual full instrumentals that could work as a single, but of course is nearly devoid of human voice, and leaves only imagining how hard a Ghostface or Aesop Rock could bring it over its pounding, Doom-esque spine. Of course, that way of thinking is exactly what got him into trouble in the first place.
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