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The concept album is a rare beast in the realms of instrumental hip-hop and broken-beat electro. We’ve seen Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin thread common feelings through album cuts, and producers like Madlib and J Dilla build wholes from a million little beats and pieces. On The Only She Chapters, the seventh proper album under his well-traveled Prefuse 73 moniker, Atlanta beatmaker Guillermo Scott Herren aims to raise electronica’s emotional stakes.
The name of each of the album’s 18 tracks begins with “The Only,” and they range from fairly literal (“The Only Lillies and Lilacs”) to sentimental (“The Only Valentine’s Day Failure”) to psychedelic and metaphorical (“The Only Guitar to Die Alone”). The loops and arrangements aren’t always what you’d expect underneath each heading—”The Only Valentine’s Day Failure” features clipped beats, flute, and harpsichord that in sum suggest a rickety horse-drawn carriage—but there’s no need for the ordinary here.
One has to wonder if Herren recently witnessed loss or pain involving a woman in his life, and used that as the impetus for this rather startling album. The Only She Chapters is a purposefully muddled and cluttered release, as if he’s trying to divine the tea leaves of his brain following a breakup. This is dense music even for Prefuse 73, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate, rewarding narrative.
The vocals run quiet and choral, overdubbed and multiplied and atmospheric; to this album’s point they’re also exclusively female: Faidherbe, Zola Jesus, the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast. There are hints of dream pop in songs like “The Only Hand to Hold” but they’re splintered by nothing so much as hopelessness and sadness. Furthermore, finding a head-nodder among instrumentals like “The Only Serenidad” is damn near impossible, what with all the sonic fog to surround and distract the listener.
It’s a dour release, to be sure—from the lady-draped cover art forward this comes across as part yearning mixtape, part tone poem, possibly even part eulogy. Yet The Only She Chapters is also a refreshing change of pace for rhythmic music in general and a shining light in the Prefuse 73 catalog.