Matthew Dear’s confident full-length debut of abstract techno-pop is a slow grabber.
After your head gets an interesting (if not understated) wake-up call in the John Cage-like opener “Nervous Laughter (Intro),” Dear gradually marches deeper into mysterious territory, searching for more ambitious treasures.
What he finds comes back at us as a series of jolts: unfolding like a notebook filled with pure electronics, seamless in its presentation, aesthetically gorgeous, danceable to the extreme and (kudos to Dear) humanistic to the core. And it’s not only the singing, and the trippy, melt-away and cut-up vocal effects that make it so. It’s that this young Ann Arbor sonic artist/DJ composes with a deft, emotional touch, unafraid to shift tone, mood and texture at unpredictable moments; these are club tracks that transform into songs of subtle intimacy.
By cut four (“The Crush”) it’s hard to resist Dear’s embrace. It’s so warm, approachable and seductive that you willingly follow him into “But For You,” where you’ll be rewarded with flurries of sunshiny electro breaks and a sassy, shuffling beat throughout.
The next track, “An Unbending,” is darker, minimal and gets its reference points from acid, the delicious techno variant that Richie Hawtin’s F.U.S.E. and Plastikman perfected at a time when electronic dance music began making its vertical push in the early ’90s. Then it’s back to the future for “Dog Days,” the album’s dazzling centerpiece — a funky, insanely percussive (Dear’s music is notable for its crisp but studded syncopation) tech-house romp that shares a spirit for controlled mayhem found in artists like Luciano, Ricardo Villalobos and Pantytec’s Zip and Sammy Dee — all of whom have recorded on Germany’s Perlon label, whose roster of multinational talent includes Dear’s Jabberbox project. (To complete the earlier acid connection: Dear has also recorded under the moniker False for Hawtin’s Plus 8 label in Windsor).
But this Texas-weaned artist is most closely identified with Michigan’s Ghostly International, a company producing masterminds at a staggering rate. While the local market intermittently gives Ghostly its due, when its talent travels or releases a new record, it’s news in New York, London and Berlin. Dear and Tadd Mullinix — who also records under the names James Cotton and Charles Manier — are already alt-dance stars in the world’s cultural capitals. Midwest Product and Dykehouse, which mine the same territory ’80’s synth/art/pop pioneers New Order and Wire did, could be next.
The fact that Dear created an accomplished dance record is no surprise. Dear’s live and DJ performances have a Zen-like exactness: his focus never strays too far from the essential rhythms that can keep you listening or dancing eternally. He’s that rare combination of raw innocence and technical proficiency — a true 21st century boy.
What is most gratifying in the end, though, has nothing to do with time or technology. It’s that Matthew Dear delivers Leave Luck to Heaven from the heart, filled as much with joy as it is with menace, and he does it so naturally it’s scary.
E-mail Walter Wasacz at firstname.lastname@example.org.