“Security Screenings” clocks in at a healthy 40 minutes, but displays a wider palette of sounds than many records much longer. Last year’s “Silence” saw Herren, the one-man lineup of Prefuse 73, experimenting with collaboration. Someone chimed in on nearly every track—guests ranged from Blonde Redhead to Aesop Rock. Listeners, faced with such an influx of voices, were almost universally underwhelmed.
This year’s record takes a step back: by distancing himself from the celebrity-studded meanderings of “Silence,” Herren returns to the sharp, intricate rhythm collages that made him famous.
“Security Screenings” builds its songs on looped samples, delicately intermeshed beats, and electronic flourishes, dipping in and out of new modes with each bar. The result carries both the heft of hiphop and the prettiness of indie electronic. The effect of this fusion can be disorienting, but in a way disorientation is precisely the point: in the opening track, “The Letter: P,” Herren sets up a snatch of movie dialogue, only to undermine and distort the voices beyond recognition.
It is a fitting introduction to his world, in which music acts as a tool to break down the mundane and recast it. The frequent spoken samples are the fulcrums in Herren’s soundscape, creating a space for him to confront directly the voices he is reacting against. Early in the album, “Illiterate Interlude” unleashes a barrage of the insults that had been directed at “Silence.” Herren plays the crude voices against a cacophony of violins; ultimately, the music wins out.
And there are striking things to follow. The scope of most of these songs is grand; they encompass a world of moods, and each line can turn on a pin.
Tender chords blend into spastic dance, fall into velvet strains of jazz, and then cycle back again. The music detours and diverges, but it is never allowed to drift—Herren’s skilled hand keeps all the parts moving behind the scenes, ensuring that even the most abrupt shift feels integral to the shape of the song. And often, the foundations of traditional song structure rest beneath all the whistles and bells.
The hypnotic “With Dirt And Two Texts-Later Version With Love” alternates two sing-song synth melodies like chorus and verse. “Creating Cyclical Headaches” works like a bell curve: it begins with a simple, bubbly keyboard, layers on sound after sound with increasing thickness, and then whittles the song back down to its roots by the end.
These familiar structures serve as posts to help us navigate what is often bewildering territory. Although Herren’s sound is immediately appealing, it often takes several listens to begin to understand what is going on.
In the end, though, this music is made for dancing; while our brains may not be able to interpret Herren’s songs right away, our feet and hips can. Of all the album’s divergent strengths, its greatest is the ability to pack the sum of its parts into a single kinetic flow.