By looking into the details of The Only She Chapters, one would think that Prefuse 73’s newest album was a very harsh and depressing forty minutes. Its vaguely obsessive title, the fact that every one of its 17 tracks starts with the ominous finality of “The Only” and that songs are given such cheerful titles as “The Only Valentine’s Day Failure” and “The Only Guitar to Die Alone” suggest that the album was born from some crippling event that descended upon 73’s main man, Ahmad Szabo. From perhaps an ugly break-up or the loss of a loved one, the album sounds like a mixtape a spiteful Tyler the Creator would release or if Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak had been more unhinged. However, The Only She Chapters does not have a definite mission statement. It’s neither a vilification nor a celebration of man’s better half, but, rather, a series of beautifully dystopian electro-ambient songs. And I’m reviewing it just in time for Mother’s Day.
“The Recollection of Where Life Stopped,” the first track of The Only ends with the slamming of a door, an excellent audio accompaniment to the listener’s introduction to Szabo’s perverted utopia. Somewhat of a surreptitiously chopped and screwed trip to Medieval Times and somewhat of a mechanized dreamscape, the album throws sounds at you constantly to the point where you’ll get nauseous trying to keep up. At times, making the best of the aural beating is in your best interest. The bass is steady and pounding and Szabo makes good use of the fact that you have two speakers at your disposal, hurling noises from seemingly every direction like you’re standing in the middle of a spherical firing range. It’s definitely music for headphones, and, even if it is clearly confrontational at times, it’s nice to have this type of music slap you around a bit for a change.
The Only She Chapters features about half a dozen singing voices, all of which are female. Their contributions to the album range from the decorative to the center-stage. Niki Randa adds some ethereal coos to “The Only Boogie Down” that, honestly, anyone could have performed and Zola Jesus, probably the biggest name on the album, hollers in an echo chamber somewhere in the multiverse on “The Only Direction in Concrete,” but she’s so low in the mix, you won’t notice her if you’re not looking for her. While these tracks in particular are still good, they can be forgettable and are responsible for the more unremarkable tracks on The Only. However, Adron’s French singing is excellent on “The Only Guitar to Die Alone,” Szabo adding some characteristically discordant accordion to great effect and Shara Worden, coming off some prime cameos on Colin Stetson’s newest album, teases with harmonized aplomb on “The Only Hand to Hold,” probably the most single-worthy track on the album. These feminine influences of varying prominence both soften The Only’s structural clutter and provide excellent contrast to Szabo’s cut-and-paste technique, making for a release that can be both challenging and calming when you want it to be either.
The fact that The Only She Chapters never makes an attempt to constrain itself to the boundaries of tracks lengths may be daunting to those who decide to listen to the album, but trust me: When you put those headphones on, you’re not going to want to take them off until the album has finished, lest you abruptly disrupt the gloriously flawed euphoria that Szabo continuously concocts with ease. The album does not thrive through distinct tracks but a well-planned and unified mood of which’s variations are few but valued when they appear. For an album with so few spoken words, I’ve never felt so many messages communicated to me in one release before.