Deru: Say Goodbye to Useless
Mush Records

Having previously appeared on Ghostly International, Merck, and Neo Ouija, Benjamin Wynn returns with a new Deru full-length, Say Goodbye To Useless, a polyglot beast that deftly grounds shape-shifting set-pieces with thumping hip-hop rhythms. Wynn brings a rich background of experiences and musical interests to his work, and it shows in the new release's eleven intricately-structured pieces. Growing up in Chicago, Wynn was influenced by the music played by WHPK's hip-hop DJ JP-Chill, and not long after showcased his own DJ skills at the station when JP-Chill invited him to play a handful of mixes on air. While enrolled in Cal Arts' Music Technology program, Wynn developed skills in the areas of synthesis, music theory, and composition, studied world music (e.g., Balinese Gamelan, African drumming, etc.), and later on co-composed a piece about Darwin in collaboration with Joby Talbot for the Ballet d'Paris. More than ever before, Wynn integrates such diverse interests in the new recording to such a degree that they've become indissolubly mixed. Shaping the music into its essential form, Wynn locates that sweet spot between control and looseness in the material, and builds the tracks' arrangements until they're dense and detailed but not overburdened.

The album opens with a rather head-scratching overture, “I Would Like,” where the crackle of eroded vinyl is joined by the slightly slowed lament of a French singer, with Deru maniuplating the material by phase-stretching the voice and building it into a hazy fog. Immediately thereafter, the song's given a second go-round (“I Want”) with the haunting vocal melody sped-up and a slinky hip-hop groove added to give the track a hefty bottom end and up-to-date feel. “Walk” is typical of the album's fresh sound, with programmed breaks determinedly shuffling alongside a minimal bass vamp and the whole clouded over by a willowy mass of hazy textures and Rhodes fragments. One of the album's most distinctive tracks, “Fadeaway” pairs a woodwind section's cross-patterning and a downtempo, head-nodding pulse; naturally, it's the brooding interweave of the clarinet, bass clarinet, and saxophones that gives the track its special character, something brought into sharpest relief when the beats drop out entirely in the closing minute. Wynn's scene-painting skills get a workout in “What Happens When You Ask,” a slightly menacing, field recordings-heavy mood-piece where a street person's voice is heard amidst crackle, dust, and traffic noise. Other tracks offer variations on Wynn's solid command of instrumental hip-hop, whether it's of the slightly more straight-up (“Peanut Butter & Patience”) or atmospheric and breezy kind (“Hello”). Ignore the off-putting title of “Basically, Fuck You” and instead groove to its lushly layered blend of electronic funk and hip-hop. On the basis of the level of skill and talent displayed throughout, one hopes that the recording's final song, “Goodbye,” is an album adieu only as opposed to something larger in scope.

September 2009