Good things come to those that wait, even if the wait is torturous.
The wait for Benjamin “Deru” Wynn’s newest album has been nearly 6 years. Seventy-two months of agonizing, tantalizing anticipation, which seemed to have turned into a period of serious seasoning; a stewing in the musical mind of Wynn. With his first two albums, Pushing Air and Trying to Remember, many a listener and critic had spotted the heavy HipHop influence, but not until February 23rd of this year when their ears are illuminated with Say Goodbye to Useless will they hear the next evolutionary step in the sound of 21st Century HipHop.
Whereas his previous albums were a HipHop-centric stew of Glitch-Hop and Ambient soundscapes, Say Goodbye to Useless is a much more finely honed blend. Those elements still arise, but they are much more complimentary and don’t stand in the way of the purpose statement. This album is where Instrumental HipHop was destined to go, in a mystical cornfield involving recluse writers and baseball sort of sense. It might be a fanciful tale, but you always buy into it as a possibility. Well folks, it has arrived. So, strap on your headphones and check the airbags on your easy chairs.
The album starts out with a super mellow, extra long sample-collage of an old French song where the singers lament different desires that almost hint at the universal yearning for powers beyond our terrestrial constraints. Then, with “I Want” Deru takes immediate flight into an album full of superterranean beats that leave behind some of the murkier, less-focused sub-terranean HipHop of before. I know what you’re wondering, “Is he saying that ‘sub-terranean’ or ‘underground’ HipHop is bad??!?” NO. My word style is deliberate and poignant, much like Wynn’s music. I use derivations of terranean to imply a certain feel to the music itself, not whether it is commercially viable or not. Much of Wynn’s previous work, while lovely and high-quality, was occasionally smothered by the decay of bodies past. It was as if his music was still partially in an embryonic stage, but gestating under the decay of previous lives and ideas. Now Deru is plotting a course above ground. Spatially the music is more open, even while it is dark in some ways, that color and timbre is not the primary emotional theme. That’s also not to say that this is some happy-go-fuckin-lucky sounding record. It’s hard to describe. Let’s say contemplative instead of brooding. On to the album, shall we?
One of Wynn’s most noticeably improved attributes is his rhythm programming. While he has always been a solid rhythm programmer, I would now easily class him as an Elvin Jones of the HipHop/Electronica world. What do I mean by that? Well, his poly-rhythms are sick and slick, without making percussive mud or distracting the listener from the melodic and harmonic portions of the music (though, to be honest, much of his harmony & melody is syncopated to the rhythm, rightly so). This shines through most clearly in his cymbal patches and patterns. On “I Want” and “Peanut Butter & Patience”, the cymbals are what really polish up the rhythm tracks and give it that real riding, driving feel. In fact, one other comparison is Amon Tobin. Tobin is keenly aware of good cymbal use, but has by and large utilized samples as his source instead of direct programming. Deru has a sniper’s deadly eye for an ear for rhythm and has now hit his stride. This cymbal work does not, however, over-brighten the tunes or make them too metallic. It’s as if you took the excitement of Funk and shifted its environs to be post-apocalyptic. They are still warm little organic structures squishing their way through a largely fabricated and cold world.
“I Want” has its haunting quality that scrapes the line with a surging, undeniable rhythm that could probably make Neo-Cons get up and dance. Okay, maybe after a scotch or two, but you get the picture, right? “Peanut Butter & Patience” carries this dance party on further, where layers of repose and pause give way to glacial calving of even more irresistible funkiness and butt-shaking goodness. And then this is where the major fault I find with record lay. The very next track, “Hello”, drops that momentum. The song is still a quality track, that once it builds over time, becomes its own serviceable banger, but it does not let the listener down easily from the previous 8 minutes of ecstasy in motion. And to be honest, I sometimes find myself skipping past this one, more because of its placement within the album rather than an ‘I don’t like it’ kind of thing. In fact, the swelling organ (musical!! get your minds out of the gutter!!) that takes it over halfway through gives this a touch of Post-Rock wandering. Now, when I normally skip past “Hello” I am immediately rewarded with the soul and rump shaking number called “Basically, Fuck You”. This returns us to the mammoth rhythm made to alter the planet’s axis that I so love. This song does a dance to the death with the Johnny Greenwood Monster That Eats Techno Sounds. That monster flosses its teeth with the garbled tape loop squeals of a lost future projection. I don’t drop Mr. Greenwood’s name in light jest, I actually feel like this could be a song made for Radiohead consumption and that Thom Yorke could start crooning his pale-ass Blues all over the place and it wouldn’t be awkward. Though, I’m glad he doesn’t, because this thumper is special all on its own. One night, I put it on repeat and danced to it for about 40 minutes straight. Another smashingly delightful highlight on this album is “Fadeaway”. With a wavering dawn opening of reversed string notes, “Fadeaway” quickly hops into a Funkmobile of HipHop rhythm and sways gently onto a Jazz orchestra dance floor where the reeded woodwinds are prominently featured. These clarinet and oboe strutting flourishes immediately bring to mind one master of the weird, Moondog. It is, however, a simply gorgeous piece that begs to be the soundtrack to a late night bicycle ride around the neighborhood under a full moon. This is followed appropriately by the dark, Tyler Durden-esque growler known as “Days, Then…”. In fact, I’d put it into a mix with any number of the darker tunes from Tobin’s Supermodified.
So, with all that said, I am still allowing the larger energetic arc of this record to reveal itself to me, as, at times, it seems to deny its natural course (see my notes on “Hello”). However, I’m trying not to let this distract me from all the other great qualities of Say Goodbye to Useless, because I would be even more annoyed by a straight through-and-through non-stop thumpfest. Deru is not making dance music stricly for the dance floor or the dance party, no, this is music that you can dance to, but should also think and talk to.
A fabulous effort and the first great album of 2010.