Savath & Savalas

By David Gunn

The story of Apropa't is a sweet one. After a lifetime spent kicking about in the smoke and concrete of Atlanta, Scott Herren decided to shed the hip hop cocoon of his Prefuse 73 persona and fly to the Spanish shores of his father. There he met up with singer/songwriter Eva Puyuelo Muns and, discovering a shared love of Iberian folk, set about recording some duets with her. These sketches were then passed on to the Soma Studio in Chicago, where John McIntire and various affiliates fleshed them out into a releasable work. As Herren has said, 'the whole project has become an almost straight-up, Catalan/Castellano vocal-based folk steez'. And that's a pretty accurate description.

As a demonstration of Herren's fluid talent, it is an interesting diversion. And initially at least, it also seems to be a rather fine album. The opening salvo, from Introduccion through to A La Nit, is a strong start by any standards – all moody-eyed sambas and plaintive ballads. The production is delicate and rich, with male and female vocals intertwining in close and breathy harmonies while guitars drift around the campfire. And whilst we are clearly a million miles from One Word Extinguisher, there are some affinities in Herren's skillful juxtaposition of sounds and effects. Although the instrumentation is not violently cut up or processed, Herren does allow himself some subtle dissections, broadening the palette and opening up more expansive vistas from the dewy-eyed intimacy of the original recordings.

In fact, this delicate processing is a vital characteristic of the album. For without exception, the songs are haunted by the same emotional tenor – although full of sadness and loss, there is a continued refusal to openly cry or laugh, instead remaining in a sombre hinterland of Catalonian reserve. This understatement almost continually threatens descent into a rather vague and unengaging melancholia, only held in check by the subtle counterpoints of Herren's various colourings and disruptions. It is a fine line, but it is precisely the precariousness of this balance that makes the record interesting.

Apropa't does have some limitations. Tonally the album is pretty much all of a piece, and whilst this initially works well, it begins to cloy as the album progresses. Whilst there may be little to fault several of the later tracks, there is also little to distinguish them from what has come before. To make matters worse, the re-sampling gradually becomes less inventive (or perhaps just more familiar), and this absence leaves a few of the later tracks feeling rather insubstantial.

But it seems unfair to be overly critical of Apropa't. It may not have the clarity of focus exhibited in Folks Songs For Trains, Trees and Honey (the first Savath & Savalas release), but it is a pretty little album, and it does demonstrate an admirable dexterity in Scott Herren's musical abilities. But ultimately, there is just not quite enough there to lift Apropa't above this. Of course, artists of Herren's calibre should be given this kind of freedom to experiment with different forms. It may well be an important step in his development as an artist, and as a by-product of this development he has given us some diverting moments to pass the time by. Just don't expect this album to open up the kind of possibilities that some of his other work does.
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