Roberto Carlos Lange is a hard cat to pin down. His material has been all over the map, from the experimental folk leanings of his projects as Helado Negro and Savath y Savalas, to the downtempo hip-hop of his Epstein namesake, to the executive production he did for highly hyped New York rock band Bear In Heaven. Although his catalogue is phenomenally diverse, it is tied together by the fact that it’s all pretty relaxed music. Downtempo, relaxed, ambient stuff. So how would all of this material and influence hold up to the knife of two remixers?
Epstein employs to two previous collaborators to remix his back catalogue, allowing them to filter through all of his work and remix whatever they pleased, a trust that should really only be afforded to those who really understand what you’re about. The first to take Epstein’s material for a spin is Yeasayer drummer Jason “JayTram” Trammell, who had previously provided Epstein with extensive drum work in his albums as Epstein y El Conjunto. Jaytram kicks things off with “Haunted Hotel Beat”, and the thing that immediately jumped out at me was that this shit can really knock. I expected some proggy, spacey, Yeasayer-adjacent “beats,” but what Jaytram turns in is far more hip-hop than the other side of the release. He frequently employs oozing, melodic vocal samples that give the beats a feeling that’s, well… haunted. “You Know They Out” finds Jaytram employing these vocals samples, as the song floats through existence while occasionally tossing in bits of paranoid dialogue. “Sleep Watching Clouds” is one of the records highlights, a ride through a hazy meadow with just enough percussive force to keep your head nodding. His compositions are good, and at times very interesting, but are also very loop-based, and sometimes seem to plod along without direction, at times probably lasting longer than they need to. This is never a problem for Epstein’s fellow Savath y Savalas member Scott Herren on his half of the remix EP.
Listening to Prefuse 73, a.k.a. Guillermo Scott Herren, at this point in his career can get pretty tasking. In case it was ever in question, he’s here in all of his stuttering, glitchy glory. I told a friend once that Herren’s newer output is a lot like driving on a highway at sunset with trees obstructing your view of the sun. Gaps open often enough that you can see most of the sun in all of it’s beauty, but immediately more trees will arrive to obstruct your view. It’s not that Herren’s beats here are bad, or that the glitchiness is a bad production tool. But it’s as if he has so much to show us that he can only piece together one beat for about 15 seconds before, “Fuck this, moving on!” impulses take hold of him. His best track here, Enfermo Abrazos, starts off like a downhill runaway train, before slowly breaking into a groove. After about a minute, he shows us some of the beauty he’s capable of – a second beat within the song that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on the seminal One Word Extinguisher. It stops, stutters and trips over itself just as much as any other Prefuse 73 beat, but a haunting vocal sample, some stuttering percussion and keys build enough of a melody that’s it’s pretty damn difficult not to get your head nodding. This shit isn’t just meditative, this is fun, even bordering on triumphant. As soon as the beat completely settles into your head, Herren jumps without warning to some menacing horror movie end-music.
In the earlier part of his career, when Herren was at his best, the collaging, the aside production and the short attention span where still evident, but they were balanced. He would throw different beats into intros or as quick asides, possibly as in-song interludes. But they existed as a compliment. Herren’s asides seem to have taken over the composition altogether, and emotional quality and ability to effect the listener have been interrupted by his attention. There’s a lot to love here. But it takes quite a bit from the listener to be able to overcome the thickness of his compositions and find the gems inside. He was able to balance the overwhelming glitch and his melodic abilities into something dynamic, but his genius will forever be bordering on insanity.