Matthew Dear’s music career is quite segmented. With a fairly steady stream of output from four monikers over the last decade, and with them four different angles taken on electronic music, it isn’t with disdain that I say this. With False: subtle, minimalist electronica that genre geeks eat up. Under the name Audion: a more amplified and dynamic techno sound, best suited for clubs or heard through the overlarge headphones of angst-ridden teenage genre geeks in the making. Jabberjaw is toned down compared to Audion, but much more experimental and melodic (and very repetitive), i.e. what those teens will have their friends listen to when they are more mature. Which brings us to Matthew Dear, his actual name, and the one he chooses when venturing into broader pop realms than those under other nomenclature.
Dear takes Eno inspired stabs at finding equilibrium between the emotional spaces of electronic music and pop structures. But for a masterfully detail-oriented producer to dabble in pop structures, there is a learning curve. Frequently the records, aptly reflecting his musical background, come off fracture, with abstract house jams or ethereal trips leading into stylistic odes to the Thin White Duke. Granted, Eno’s discography is fractured in the same way on a record-to-record basis, but that just means Dear has yet to achieve an album with anywhere near the substantive cohesion of an Another Green World or Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). On new EP Headcage, Dear takes his sharpest stab yet.
Dear’s 2007 album Asa Breed easily had more highs than lows, and 2010’s Black City and 2003’s Leave Luck To Heaven each had impressive plateaus. But Dear has never delivered something this consistent before. The futuristic sounding marimbas that lay the foundation of the rhythm section on “Headcage” at first appear fractured as well, but by the time the first chorus hits, they fall in line playfully behind Dear’s bottomed-out vocals. And once the build-up pays off, the playfulness becomes evident, as Dear delivers in his most pleasantly guttural voice: “Your mama wont care, if you stay out tonight / throw your arms in the a-a-a-a-air, let:s go have fun tonight / To be alone on a saturday-ay-ay, can be so lonely / so come this once, come away-ay-ay-ay / And sing along.” From there, Dear maintains a disjointed, alternate reality filled with sharp rhythms and dreamy lyrics. Quite a contrast to Black City and there is a trend toward (gasp) mainstream sounds, so die-hard fans (and genre geeks) may be deservedly disappointed. However, the consistent songwriting outweighs the superficial shifts in aesthetics.
But it is just an EP. What can be exciting about EPs are their chances, their spontaneity, their possibly transitional nature, catching an artist between distinct sounds or periods-and on a promising note, the title track is slated to appear on Dear’s next full-length, Beams, due out later this year. Until then, however, Headcage will remain only that: promising. As his previous LPs were plagued by influences, whether OMD, Suicide or Kraftwerk, threatening to outshine Dear’s much more nuanced creativity, Headcage isn’t without some more current reference points: MGMT on “In The Middle (I Met You There),” Deerhunter on “Street Song,” and TV on the Radio on “Around A Fountain.” Thus, he has room to grow into his own space, but he has now proven he knows how to play with pop structures while exploring a cohesive sound.
Stream: Matthew Dear – “Headcage”