When Scott Herren released his debut, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp, 2001) under the moniker Prefuse 73 (he also records as Savath + Savalas and Delarosa & Asora), his breakthrough collision of hip-hop and electronic music marked an arrival. Recalling the experience of hearing DJ Shadow's Endtroducing (Mo' Wax, 1996) for the first time and being hit in the face in the best way possible by the kinetic "Number Song," Herren's album declared "Surprise!" the moment the first track, "Radio Attack," went from straightforward hip-hop sharp beats and melodic flutes to an exhilarating explosion of sonic fragments.
Beats reversed, overlapped, climbed on top of each other, glitched out. Angelic voices appeared and then, just as quickly, floated away. What the hell was this? How often do you put an album on and experience absolute pleasure of not having a definition on hand for what you're hearing? It was unpredictable at every turn and truly hit its stride with "point to B," as staccato raps, cut up and then cut up again, met wandering wind chimes before doubling back on themselves, taking parts of words, snipped and spliced, and making them the found-sound beats.
In 2002 Herren released two EPs, one as Savath + Savalas, the other as Prefuse 73. Both had a sketchbook quality and seemed like casual explorations. His work as Prefuse 73, The '92 Vs '02 Collection, had little of Vocal Studies' tautness. Its downtempo R & B ballads were disappointingly flaccid.
Relief, then, that One Word Extinguisher, from the start, portrays Herren's Prefuse 73 as having been resuscitated and revived. Its first two proper tracks are unrelenting bangers. "The End of Biters-International" is, at one minute and 17 seconds, probably the tightest, shortest, hip-hop jam you'll hear in '03. Cymbals crash into pianos and snippets of a voice are tossed into the mix, coalescing into a vigorous challenge rap ("Able to defend bombastic MCs/ Like a baseball bat I'll break you down to your knees/ If you see a sucker cut him/ Don't like perpetrators..."). With "The End of Biters..." Herren sets a pace that announces sprint but which, over the course of 23 (!!) tracks, evolves into more of a cross-country marathon.
"Plastic," a collaboration with the rapper Diverse, comes next and shows Herren maintaining his front-running momentum. Skittering, bouncing synths and Diverse's uptempo delivery, manipulated by Herren to stop, start, move forward and back, mark this piece. As with past Prefuse joints, the rapper is a participant but Herren's production is the star.
Throughout a very cohesive album, Herren manages to mix into his stew some raps, some instrumentals, and some tracks that take the spirited heavy beats of hip-hop and ally them with sampled swatches of soulful female vocalists. Combinations like those on "Dave's Bonus Beats" and "Why I Love You" are electronic-based, but with their choruses of overdubbing vocals, pianos and strings, are yearning and moving. Parts could be considered post-gospel.
Herren fuses beatboxing with classical orchestration on "Busy Signal." "Perverted Undertone," which rolls warmly and easily along its winding bassline and keys, provides the perfect summer day soundtrack. "Choking You" is a potent piece of digital funk driven by crunching tones that sound as if they were produced with a re-calibrated Speak & Spell.
One Word Extinguisher doesn't shock the way Vocal Studies... did but, if his debut drew the vivid hip-hop/electronic blueprint, Herren convincingly takes his plans and constructs something big with the follow-up. For Prefuse 73 fans, as well as those who like their soul, funk and hip-hop with more edge than cheese, it's well worth investigating.