Devonwho Perfect Strangers
Originally self-released last year through his Bandcamp page as a two-volume collection of beats, much of the material featured on Devonwho's most recent full-length, Perfect Strangers, is not exactly new. With that said, this new edition of the LP shouldn't be immediately dismissed; the record's 13 original tracks not only serve as a solid glimpse into the producer's sound, but also prove that the beat scene can still churn out something exciting.
Throughout its duration, Perfect Strangers draws on a number of sources for inspiration, and among these, the skittery, low-slung sounds of Southern hip-hop and the bleeps and bloops of old-school videogames seem to provide the greatest influence. This is most apparent on "Taurus/Shorty," which opens with warm synth textures and a squelching lead melody over snappy and unabashedly club-ready percussion. If anything, percussion is where Devonwho excels, and his skill with creating tight, catchy drum patterns often makes up for the pitfalls in some of his weaker tracks. "Slices," for example, centers its sound around a repetitive (and frankly kind of boring) melody, but its rhythm section is an entirely different beast; geared for the dancefloor, it occupies a state halfway between dubstep and Southern hip-hop. "Reds/blues" is similar, as it starts off with a skittery, rattling hip-hop beat and a raucous-sounding lead before gradually mellowing out and becoming an atmospheric affair punctuated by calm synth sweeps and open-hi-hat strikes.
Even the interludes (for lack of a better word) are well-produced—and fun—listens. With their 8-bit synths, "Ghost" and "Ghostpt2" play out much like long-lost secret stages from an arcade game. Devonwho plays with the former's pitch, gradually lowering it until the track sounds like an old Atari finally giving up the ghost, while the latter is anchored on a catchy, percolating lead and ascendant arpeggios. "Makinglists" takes a more bare-bones approach; its off-kilter percussion sounds minimal (and even hollow, at times), but that's more than made up for by the full-bodied bass and the prettily descending melody that occasionally surfaces over woozy synths.
Much of Perfect Strangers finds Devonwho proving himself more than capable of working within the confines of the hip-hop-meets-electronic format that has come to define the beat scene, but the LP has its most interesting and exciting moments when he chooses to stray from that template. Opener "Fronteras" is a great example; with its stabby synths, shuffling beat, and soaring melodies, it wouldn't be out of place alongside "Strangebrew," an earlier Devonwho track. The catchy "Shine," which features Bay Area crooner and keyboardist Teeko, seems to take a page out of Dam-Funk's playbook, mixing talkbox-soaked vocals with a swaggering, stomping beat and synth whines that are unmistakably G-funk. Even "Cabbages," Devonwho's collaboration with Pennsylvania beatsmith Swarvy and quite possibly the album's standout cut, tries for something different by incorporating elements of footwork and juke with its low-slung bass throbs and icy synths.
The reissue of Perfect Strangers also features six additional tracks, namely remixes from artists such as Northern Draw, Benito, and Denley, among others. While each of these remixers contributes a solid and enjoyable product, M. Constant stands out with his excellent rework of the relatively flat "Pretendingtowalkslow," in which he does away with the strange, garbled vocals of the source material and gives its slow, minimalist beat a healthy dose of swing and shuffle. Citymouth's remix of "Shine" is also quite imaginative; the producer turns the track on its head, slowing the song to a crawl and laying down a haze of ethereal synths, leaving behind no trace of the original save for a few snippets of Teeko's vocals. Still, although these remixes are a nice and welcome bonus, Perfect Strangers does a fine job of standing on its own, and the album as a whole only reaffirms Devonwho's status as one of the beat scene's more promising producers.
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