Release Date: Jan 17, 2012
Record label: Ghostly International
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
Headcage begins where last year’s Slowdance EP left off, sharing an inventiveness; creating driving, hazy, and atmospheric dance music. What separates Matthew Dear from many of his contemporaries is the nourishing feel to many of his compositions, and the intelligent warmth he breathes into them. While some of his previous records such as 2007’s Asa Breed had something of a hard edge, there was also a radiance, and 2010’s Black City might have been particularly melancholic, yet was steeped in romanticism.
The prelude to Matthew Dear's Beams is a four-track EP that includes some production input from Stockholm producers Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid (Fever Ray, Glasser, Blonde Redhead) and a duet with Brooklyn-based vocalist Jonny Pierce (of the Drums, a band whose "Me and the Moon" was remixed by Dear). The lead track and "In the Middle (I Met You There)" are two of Dear's sharper avant-pop songs, fluid but rustling, like a fair portion of his best work, but relatively lucid and inviting. The back half, "Street Song" and "Around a Fountain," are elusive sketch-like tracks with slightly unsettling ambience.
While there's a certain disconnect between the Matthew Dear at the helm of 2003's classic Leave Luck To Heaven and the thoroughly crossed-over Matthew Dear of today, reconciling the two doesn't require too much in the way of mental acrobatics: you can hear Dear's pop impulse rattling around behind Leave Luck's still-straightforward techno, a drive he'd mostly severed from his club music roots by 2007's Asa Breed and fully grown into by the massive, murky Black City last year. Dear's latest, the four-track Headcage EP, finds the New Yorker continuing to explore what it might mean for him to be a pop star, even going so far as to bring in some outside help on the production end. "Headcage" is the fruit of a collaborative session at Brooklyn's Rare Book Room studio between Dear and the Swedish production team of Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, whose similarly idiosyncratic take on pop helped birth Fever Ray.
Matthew Dear's transformation, from bedroom techno polymath to live-band leader, occurred over such a long, seamless stretch that it's easy to take for granted just how surprising (and rewarding) it's been. In 2003, Dear's wonky vocal anthem, "Dog Days", could have been taken as a micro-house producer's novelty, a cheeky attempt at merging sappy indie pop with alien sound design. But while he kept on recording "straight" techno in a bewildering array of styles, Dear's records under his own name continued shucking dance music's rules, rhythmic and otherwise.
Matthew DearHeadcage EP[Ghostly; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; January 17, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetMatthew Dear is a lucky artist. Lucky in that he has freedom to move about into and between different styles of music and call it his own, without having to worry too much about alienating listeners. He’s explored a multitude of song structures, textures and even concepts under his own name and others, and over the years it’s been like Dear has been revealing himself gradually, unfurling his personality through his music and lyrics.
Matthew Dear is a true shapeshifter. Seriously, this guy is like Mr. Sinister or something. The DJ/Ghostly International co-founder/producer dabbled in straight dance music on 2003's Leave Luck to Heaven, tried on his microhouse hat for the warm-yet-lifeless Backstroke, took a soujourn into glitchy tech-pop for 2007's Asa Breed, and enshrouded himself in carnal filth and aural gloom for 2010's Black City.
Matthew Dear could never be accused of staying in his lane or playing the conservative. During more than a decade in the electronic underground he’s touched on Afrobeat, mastered minimalist techno, and used the strictures of dance music to create techno-tinged tracks that don’t really feel like techno. On Headcage EP, Dear shucks techno almost entirely for shifting, ambient soundscapes that might herald yet another change in artistic direction.
After the success of Matthew Dear’s last two albums – 2007’s Asa Breed and 2010’s Black City – the anticipation for a glimpse of Dear’s evolutionary progress has been high. From his debut single Dog Days to last year’s Slowdance EP, Dear has made a distinct progression from a glitchy blend of bedroom techno and deep house to a more accessible (at least as accessible as Blue Velvet was in comparison to Eraserhead) take on electropop. After touring with Hot Chip and being marginally associated with the recent indie-electronica movement, it wasn’t until Black City that the name Matthew Dear itself became a well-established institution.
In my notes on Headcage, I wrote “watery indie nostalgia for the Instagram generation—know what I mean?” I would have cleaned that thought up a little bit to say the least—I would never refer to anyone as “the Instagram generation”—but it did highlight a specific aesthetic on this EP. It’s a brand of nostalgia concocted from listless energy, a wandering jumble of drums, soothing, eyes-closed croons, sighs and elastic vocals that recall different influences at every turn—Andrew VanWyngarden, Beck, Isaac Brock, Avey Tare. I probably would have kept “watery” to describe Headcage‘s psychedelia.