Ann Arbor microhouse producer Matthew Dear has recorded under several aliases, from Audion to Jabberjaw to False, and with each one, has pursued a radically different sonic approach. From his ecstatic glitch in Jabberjaw to stripped down old school techno in Audion (offset by gloriously raunchy titles like “Just Fucking”), Dear knows his way around a beat like few other American club jocks. Yet Asa Breed, his third album under his own name, is by far his most accessible, song-based and diverse. Most importantly, it’s also his best.
With Asa Breed, Dear continues to tread a path of repetitive, hypnotic beats, techno-influenced rhythms and, when appropriate, a thread of stark minimalism that runs through each of his records. That said, Asa Breed carries with it a much broader depth of Dear’s sonic capabilities, resulting in the closest thing he’s done to a straight up pop record. It’s not so much that the album sounds like Annie or Björk; Dear comes off more like an American counterpart to Sweden’s The Knife. His deep vocals offer a similar detachment and weirdness, though without the disorienting, scary effects patches. At times, his baritone is reminiscent of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe without as much range, not that that’s a complaint. Cool and subdued though he may be, Dear sounds absolutely perfect alongside his subtly funky productions.
Dear’s deep, mesmerizing vocals are the central driving force on Asa Breed, which is largely what sets it apart from his other projects. On “Shy,” he reveals a reluctance toward public life, intoning “all of these reasons to stay inside/ I go outside/ just to stay alive.” On the bouncy, Hot Chip-like “Neighborhoods,” Dear even goes a few notes higher on his vocal scale as he woos a lady with simple prose: “I got to be the one, the one to be with you/ I can open doors, I will never lose.” And with “Deserter,” he’s got a bona fide mega hit of “Such Great Heights” proportions, gorgeous and heady, with a ray of positivity gleaming over the horizon: “just keep on searching, don’t be uncertain, your life will be just what you want it for.”
Across Asa Breed‘s 13 tracks, Dear attempts a wide range of sounds and styles, his catchy, minimal pop-techno being merely one side to this varied and colorful affair. On “Elementary Lover,” Dear tosses in a bit of Afrobeat, its exotic danceability most closely resembling Remain In Light era Talking Heads. The new wave-y “Pom Pom” is built on warm analog synth throbs, strongly reminiscent of Gary Numan’s late ’70s/early ’80s work. He’s even got acoustic guitars on the stark “Give Me More” and the heavily plodding “Midnight Lovers,” though he sounds just as competent and as confident with more organic constructions as he does with his sample-based techno. Though he takes a brief respite from guitars with the electro track “Good to Be Alive,” he returns to Johnny Cash mode with “Vine to Vine,” a dusty, distorted southwestern ballad that makes little sense on a collection such as this, but still sounds pretty cool in spite of its idiosyncratic nature.
Dear’s continued forays into electronic micro-genres could have continued as expected, bouncing from techno to house and other minimal BPM augmentation. But what fun would that have been? Rather, he chose a less direct or predictable path, meshing his electronic background with pop and acoustic folk exercises, combining in a joyously diverse and vibrant collection of songs. There’s nothing terribly fussy or overwrought about Asa Breed; it’s merely a superb pop record, one that isn’t afraid of occasionally stepping outside the dance floor.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.