Top 10 Albums of the Year: #6

Matthew Dear - Asa Breed (Ghostly)
It's been nothing short of a banner year for Matthew Dear. A 12" and plenty of remixes under his Audion guise kept dance floors moving and a bleak, almost apocalyptic-sounding full-length under the name False, titled 2007, was very warmly received by the minimal techno community. The highlight of his busy year, in my mind, has been the release of Asa Breed under his very own birth name, which merges the more strictly electronic elements from earlier Matthew Dear releases with a distinctly more pop-oriented sensibility (concise song lengths! real singing!). The result is a collection that sounds simultaneously fresh and totally forward-thinking while also retaining the familiarity and accessibility of the best pop music.
Tracks like "Neighborhoods" and "Don and Sherri" have the kind of thump you would want in a great dance track but they also have great hooks and Dear's excellent vocals. The vocals throughout the album are extremely effective and it makes it seem as though Dear is investing more of himself in his music. Often the vocals are low and dark, like on the steady and reflective "Deserter," but sometimes Dear switches into a falsetto which adds a unique atmosphere to a number of tracks, like the woozy "Will Gravity Win Tonight?" Themes surrounding relationships and (it seems) development as an artist crop up time and again throughout the album. While this is not the first time Dear has sang on record, it's a definite shift from earlier releases, and fortunately nothing ever sounds or feels forced in the slightest. As things progress some songs appear that have live, almost pseudo tribal / folky percussion and, perhaps more notably, acoustic guitar. "Give Me More," "Midnight Lovers," and the remarkable dusty neo-western album conclusion, "Vine to Vine" all have these elements, and they each seem to have a more "epic" or "grand" sound to them compared to the other tracks on the album. Dear has expanded his sound here, but not to a degree that it is out of his hands and too unwieldy for him to handle. Dear has always stood out for his sense of restraint in regards to the construction of his rhythms and melodies, and where other artists might be liable to get carried away with their ideas, Dear clearly has a perfect sense of where his boundaries lie.
Asa Breed stands as Matthew Dear's most assured, immediate, deep, rewarding and, thanks to the prominent vocals, emotionally available effort yet. Now that Dear is touring with a full band, one can only imagine where how his sound will develop as his recording career continues.
And on a personal level, I got my first listens to Asa Breed while I was in Seattle for an internship, so I will always associate this music with that experience. Which is nice.

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