You’ve got to hand it to Prefuse 73. Wait … actually, you don’t. And he won’t care if you don’t. Really, it’s OK. After riding out a crest of turn-of-the-century hype, the Atlanta glitch-hop titan (with his many, many aliases, corresponding to slightly distinct personae, of which Prefuse 73 remains the anchor) has settled into what seems like a happy life: He makes records he wants to make and listen to, with little regard for popular taste or for any far-fetched notions of advancing his artform.
With its shyness, lack of flourish, unvarnished finish and relative dearth of guest appearances, Preparations is, more than any other Pref record, some decidedly this-level-type shit. While his erstwhile contemporaries DJ Shadow and RJD2 have become their external fetishes, Prefuse 73 has retreated further and further into his hut, which seems to suit him fine. Whether or not he’s already found all the fans he wants, he’s not placing any personal ads.
Electronic funk has been a mature industry for some time, but few of its deconstructionist purveyors are less danceable, without ever being art-school “experimental,” as Prefuse 73. “Beaten Thursdays” wraps eerie samples around Pref’s usual lonesome, wobbly, vaguely melancholy skeleton, then blends seamlessly into “Aborted Hugs,” another distinctively clunkly mood piece with wingdings substituted for vowels. Preparations is such an odd mix of off-center beats and cryptic emotional communication, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like to see someone dancing to it. Try to do it without giggling. This is music for literal “heads,” for nervous systems with shit on their minds, forfeiting their right to party.
But there is a shattered dance record in here somewhere; or, if not dance, then at least something like outré hip-hop. “Smoking Red” (featuring John Stanier of Battles, with some of new-dance-rock’s most Rush-a-riffic drumming skills) sounds like it may have been a Bomb Squad piledriver a few lives ago; now, it’s back as the theme for an amoral-and-agonized police drama. “Prog Version Slowly Crushed” may be as cerebral as anything else on Preperations, but to pick a few pebbles out of its avalanche of effects, you might think someone was smuggling hyphy records into Pref’s isolation tank. Those are the exceptions, though. His cubist funk never sounds more self-sufficient, or more appropriate, than it does on “I Knew You Were Gonna Go,” a hauntingly vacant lament, a crooked collage that never sounds like any kind of hip hop. That’s followed by “Pomade Suite Version One,” which begins with a few dropped-in samples that sound mind-blowingly out-of-place.
If “The Class of 73 Bells” (featuring the School of Seven Bells, a one-time Secret Machines side-project, which contributes something that could pass for a chopped-and-screwed October Project sample) is the “hit” here, it has less to do with its goofy, nonetheless soothing new-ageyness than it does with its extended embrace of a somewhat conventional hook. But if you’re not all the way inside Prefuse 73’s world, it’s a compelling relief on both counts.