Matthew Dear Asa Breed [Ghostly Intl]

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Rating: 8.0

Strong believers in live instrumentation oft dismiss the entire (sweeping) genre of electronic music; its endless repetition of synth loops, while providing consistent dancing fuel for clubbers on ecstasy, also tends to drill mercilessly into the brain. Asa Breed, Matthew Dear’s second full album release, provides a more accessible angle on the somewhat rigid genre of (micro) house music and achieves a powerful affect with minimal melodic song structures. Thusly, Matthew Dear has bravely gone where few dj/producers (is that an accepted term now?) dare to tread: into the world of the emotive, song-driven electronic album. And with the evolution of most electronic music at a complete standstill, we should be thankful for the efforts of Dear, 4tet, Squarepusher, and any other electronic artists who fearlessly push the envelope, for they remind us that Ė wouldn’t you know it? Ė electronic music is good for more than just spring break in Ibiza. Like, it’s also good for episodes of lovelorn self-pity.

The album, recorded in Texas and Michigan, where Matthew Dear (John Gaviglio) is based, comes nearly four years after the 2003 release of Leave Luck to Heaven (the English translation of “Nintendo”). On Asa Breed, Dear’s songwriting oscillates between veiled mysticism, blind optimistic egoism, and naked self-doubt: “there’s a big hole in my life” (Give Me More) certainly stands in contrast to the sentiments of lyrics like “I am the beginning of me” (Midnight Lovers).

Simplistic and even hokey at times, this album is insidiously habit-forming. “Pom Pom” is something straight out of the David Byrne tradition: experimental pop rock with playful, cheeky lyrics: “I’ve got to figure out love / it’s such a tricky thing / can include diamond rings / will make you scream and shout / if there is no way out.” Asa Breed as a whole features a mix of playful, video-gamey electro-pop beats that belie emotional depth and melancholic sentiment lurking just beneath the surface of Dear’s melodic tunes.

As a record that Dear says “deals a lot with abstractions of human relationships,” this album strikes chords similar to Beck’s heart-crushing Sea Change but delivers them in a more enjoyable context. To wit: Dear’s “Deserter” pushes the same buttons as Beck’s “Golden Age”, but you can totally dance to it. Hence, this album will appeal to a wide audience Ė including indie crowds Ė since Dear’s monotone vocals orbit not simply around endless looped beats, but around true song structures. His minimalist electronic melee hinges, as ever, on his deep voice and almost perfunctorily delivered lyrics, frequently layered atop each other, which spout tangential bits and pieces of some broken love story. Asa Breed’s familiar textures and honest, fractured sentiments make it difficult not to identify with the songs, the album, and the mysterious man. Plus, you can totally dance to it.

-Lily Cutler

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