Savath & Savalas – Golden pollen

Unplayed no. 3

To illustrate why Golden pollen has remained Unplayed, I need to tell you about what preceded it.

An American of Catalan, Cuban and Irish origin, Guillermo Scott Herren is typically multiple in terms of his electronica personalities, but has predominantly alternated between the Savath & Savalas and Prefuse 73 monikers.  The Unplayed series will unfortunately soon being turning its attention to the latter; we’re here to talk about the former, which Scott first adopted in 2000 for Folk songs for trains, trees, and honey, on which he is feeling his way past glitches and DJ Shadow towards a signature sound.  That materialised fully-formed the following year with the cascading, cut-up beats and snatches of song that comprised the first Prefuse 73 outing, Vocal studies and uprock narratives; and this breakthrough in turn had an sequential effect on the much softer sound-surround of the next Savath & Savalas, The rolls and waves EP.

The EP kicks off with what is effectively live jazz, oddly recorded three years earlier, and relatively straight – subdued, too, in the same way that the quieter parts of A love supreme are.  It then takes on that mood but nothing else, as Scott mixes up four slices of fractured ambience and digital beauty.  It’s not yet quite as headily sensual and disorienting as subsequent Savath & Savalas releases, and it remains instrumental; Guillermo Scott Herren had not yet introduced us to Eva Puyuelo Muns, the muse / partner who would make sense of the Savath & Savalas moniker, turning it into a true double act.

Eva brought a strong sense of her country to Apropa’t – not so much sketches of Spain as complete and fabulously detailed paintings of Catalonia.   Her somewhat somnolent singing coupled with the lightly handled blend of electronica and acoustic instrumentation dreamily evokes night-time Barcelona, and the whole gives off the feeling that recording was strictly confined to the early hours after long nights in the streets, restaurants and bars of the city (full marks to John McEntire for sustaining this spirit while mixing in Chicago).  Colours without number, balconies sadly without flowers are among the fleetingly captured images which pass in quick succession to be immediately replaced by another with the random logic of a dream.

The shorter work Mañana appeared in 2005 and saw the Prefuse 73 part of Herren’s split personality muscling in on Savath & Savalas territory.  Eva gets cut up as well as the music, and the beats are beefier, or at least drawn from a broth with a fair amount of meat stewing in it.  The contorted copulation of the couple on the front of the cover competes for control of the soul of the record with the mountains and stars on the back.  Quality-wise it continues where Apropa’t left off, which isn’t quite a ringing endorsement, as the previous album is inclined to drag a little in its latter stages.  But it’s still a fine piece of music, alive with the summer buzz of Spanish cities after dark has fallen.

Which brings me to why I have balked at listening to Golden pollen.  Partly it was that there was no Eva, Scott instead using a range of singers including José González and – critically – himself.  Partly it was that the record came out on Anti rather than Warp.  That, if you’ll forgive my brand loyalty, seemed a bad sign.  The truth is that pioneers of electronic music get very quickly and inevitably overtaken.  Seldom has anyone remained right at the cutting edge for longer than two or three albums or years.  It’s hard if not impossible to sustain a sense of ground-breaking adventure for much longer than that and simultaneously not have your head turned by the fresh developments pioneered by younger innovators – Burial, Bullion, Zomby – who have grown up in a slightly different world, one that’s a degree or two hotter, technologically speaking.  Orbital, Luke Vibert, Boards of Canada, Four Tet – all more or less inevitably fell to this syndrome, and no matter how hard they try, so too will Murcof and Burial.  Are there exceptions?  Aphex Twin and Autechre, perhaps.  Discuss…

I’ve never been good at knowing where or when to draw the line.  Despite the diminishing returns I keep clicking ‘Confirm purchase’ for the Savath & Savalas and Prefuse 73 albums, always willing to give Scott another chance, knowing that anyone in whatever line of creative pursuit can return to the fray with renewed enthusiasm and vigour, even if they are no longer the one leading the way into the future.  And knowing also that the listener must bring some energy to the party too – your own weariness can be fatal to any music’s chances.  So I bought Golden pollen.  It’s recognisably the same artist at work, though the Prefuse 73 side of the split personality is this time held in check.  Give or take the Catalan language and musical mood, it sounds like a more traditional work all round, verging on singer-songwriting, Scott having given in to the temptation to front many of the tracks.  He doesn’t quite belong to the (bless him) Vini Reilly School of Ineffectual Singing – he’s better able to hold a note – but his voice lacks the kind of interest on which you can hang your attention, so the music floats in and out of your ear without the dreamy, sticky wisps that Eva helped him manufacture lodging in your brain.  Neither does the voice of José González jump or fire neurons into connecting with each other, at least not in this relatively untired listener’s brain.  It’s the disappointment I feared.

Play again factor: 4/10.

For the new album La Llama, Savath & Savalas are once again messing with their moniker by becoming a trio; and Eva is back on board.  Which means that once again I’ll be clicking on ‘Confirm purchase’.

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