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Savath and Savalas - Apropa't

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Artist: Savath and Savalas

Album: Apropa't

Label: Warp

Review date: Mar. 9, 2004

Expectations of a side project are inevitably linked to the primary outfit in question. In the case of Scott Herren, Savath & Savalas and the since deceased Delarosa + Asora are often perceived as offshoots to his Prefuse 73 work. To Herren, they are separate but equal, different venues to play his many cards. Despite his declaration that the latest Savath & Savalas record is completely independent of Prefuse, followers of the man’s work will undeniably connect the two.

Based out of Atlanta, Scott Herren has put out a profuse amount of music of late. Last April he dropped One Word Extinguisher, a clinic on how to perfectly balance hip hop and indie electronic. He followed that up shortly with a tight collection of outtakes from One Word dubbed Extinguished that somehow managed to one-up the original. In between he has collaborated with Diverse, Mos Def, Via Tania (etc., ect.) and runs the Eastern Developments record label. He returns here under the Savath & Savalas guise which was originally just an outlet to play live instruments. Apropa't is the follow up to 2000's post-rhythmic tapestry Folk Songs for Trees and Honey.

I have to admit that when I first heard that Apropa't featured Spanish singing, I envisioned delicate lilting over sickly-sliced breaks. That said, the actual results come completely unexpected with Herren and Eva Puyuelo Muns trading vocals over mostly organic instrumentation. Make no mistake, this is a wistful, calm record with lush singing that escapes Herren’s celebrated shredding. Apropa't retreats from the undulating, urban pace of his Prefuse work to the soporific, yet passionate lull of the Mediterranean.

The environment and circumstances surrounding Apropa't were essential to the music created. Almost two years ago, Herren moved from Atlanta to Barcelona, his father’s homeland. After meeting Muns, he settled in with her on the edge of the city, developing an intense relationship. The two discovered they shared a common interest in Brazilian-psych and Spanish folk. Though neither had ever sung before, they decided to write and home-record 14 Spanish and Catalan songs with an assortment of instruments including guitar, harp, flute, accordion, and bells.

Herren then carted the tapes to John McEntire's Soma Electronic Music Studio in Chicago, where he pretty much let McEntire have his way with the mix. Additional sessions included Prefuse 73 live drummer Tortoise's John Herndon, Josh Abrams on bass, the voice of Azita Youssefi, Dave Max Crawford on trumpet and Paul Mertens on bass clarinet, bass harmonica and flugelhorn.

The ceremonies begin abruptly, as if someone hit ‘record’ mid-song. It’s appropriate, as the melodies on the album seem to just drift, not too intent on finding an end – or having a beginning for that matter. Dashes of Herren’s signature elec-tricks fight for space and lose out to whispering guitars, barely brushed drums and Muns’ subtle voice floating slightly above the sparse textures. When her light tone finally enters on “Te Quiero, Pero Por Otro Lado,” one gets an idea of what Latitia Sadier might have sounded like if she was from Barcelona instead of France. The cover of Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges’ "Um Girassol da Cor de Seu Cabelo" is the most overt track on the record, with the percussion placing this at least a stones throw away from hip hop (I heard De La Soul first, Ringo Starr second). “Víctima Belleza” features plaintive piano chords, woozy strings and a crisp, guitar strum that seems on the verge of breaking out before falling back on soft horn lines. The last minute of “Sigue Tu Camino (No sabes amar…)” plays as a digital denouement with processed spears finally taking over before the music fades back to where it came from.

This complete about face in Herren’s musicality can partly be attributed to the fact that this is not simply his gig. He exchanged ideas with Muns and they co-wrote and performed the songs. The impression of intimate collaboration is left. Almost every critic touted the last Prefuse album as a break-up record. I never really heard that. On this one I do sense the eventual numbness that follows a romance turned grey. The melodies evoke a sense of longing and the arrangements are fragile. This is the sound of things slightly improving after it already got worse.

From the photographs in the sleeve to Muns’ delicate Catalan vocal-work, this record is about the slowed-pace of living in Barcelona, and about a person completely absorbing his father’s culture in hopes of finding himself (The record is dedicated to him). If you take this for exactly what it is, the album is a pleasing yet uncompromisingly deep listen. As far as where Apropa't stands in Herren’s catalog, it’s his most personal recording yet.

By Jake O'Connell

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