|Deru is one man, Los Angeles-based Benjamin Wynn, and his latest effort, Say Goodbye to Useless, proves to be a focused approach to the genre of electronica. For as sweeping as it is in scope, it remains wholly coherent and concentrated. The songs may range from moody to danceable, organic to digitized, aggressive to soft-spoken, intricate to minimalist, but underscoring it all is an element of consistency. The same voices show up in song after song, the rhythms follow familiar patterns, and the composer's confident presence is felt throughout. Listening to the album beginning to end is akin to going on a long road trip across the heart of a continent: the landscape changes drastically, but the trusty car's comforting familiarity is there to carry us from place to place.|
I should admit that for the first few days of listening to the album, only a few moments really stood out. Given that I knew nothing of Deru and I didn't know what I was getting into, I took the thrilling early moments of the album as foretelling of a mood-driven work built around melancholic vocals in foreign tongues. Imagine my disappointment when track three, "Peanut Butter and Patience," rolled around, and melancholy is abandoned for what could easily be the soundtrack a movie about well-dressed gentlemen pulling capers on one another. Concerned that, perhaps, the initial moments were a fluke, I had to restrain myself from skipping hurriedly to the next track, and eventually the brazen rhythms began to demonstrate their appeal. Relieved, I thought to myself, "Damn, this is one solid groove."
What really stands out here is Deru's careful employment of effects. It is all too easy when building electronic soundscapes to get lost in the delay and reverb, letting washes of sound do the heavy lifting while the composer does a lazy bit of point-and-click programming. This is not the case here. There is no shortage of long-tailed reverb stretching a single cymbal crash out for a few measures, certainly, but there are also moments where the space between a bass thump and a snare hit is left wide open, and, as only an experienced composer such as Wynn knows, that silence only compounds the power of the next. This concern for detailed work holds true, too, for his overall arrangements. In one track in particular, "Cottonmouth Lothario," a lead synth line is repeated, but with entirely different effects and therefore a contrasting inflection. The first time it hits, it functions predominantly as rhythm, sweeping coolly between staccato notes with a decent amount of portamento. The second time, however, the same line is drenched with delay, and, while the notes remain staccato, the delay runs one note into the next, resulting in a smoother, almost legato approach. It is subtle, but exquisite.
As the album rolls along, it manages to strike a balance between the darker moods evoked in the earliest couple tracks and the flashier moments of "Peanut Butter" and beyond. Melancholy is not left behind in the slightest. Rather, it becomes one ingredient in a complex recipe, cutting through at times and lurking in the background at others. While some tracks ("Peanut Butter and Patience," "Hello," "Basically, Fuck You") lean heavily to the groove side of things, others ("I Would Like," "I Will," "Days, Then...") seethe with underlying angst. The aforementioned "Cottonmouth Lothario" oscillates between the two and in doing so functions microcosmically, capturing the entirety of the album within the confines of just over four minutes.
In the end, I discovered that Deru's work benefits from certain environments. Listen to it on a bus during a morning commute, say, or at an office desk, and it suffers grey-scale plainness. Listen to it booming in a living room while one downs a few beers with friends, however - or better still, at a party with a dance floor - and it bursts into color, capturing the absurdity of conscious life and celebrating that absurdity through joyous lament. Its paradoxical nature mirrors that of life itself: meaningless, crude, base, and absolutely worth every second. - The Silent Ballet