Thursday, May 03, 2007

Matthew Dear’s “Asa Breed”

It’s good to have albums from Queens of the Stone Age, The White StripesDevendra Banhart, even – on the horizon but, in fairness, we’re not really expecting any of them to reinvent the wheel. That’s why it’s nice on occasion for an exciting, ambitious, arguably flawed record to arrive out of the blue and twist your head around. “Asa Breed”, Matthew Dear’s second artist album on Detroit’s consistently inspiring Ghostly International label, is shaping up as the summer’s big contender for that fix.

Dear you may know as Audion, the moniker under which he’s dispatched heavy 4/4 acid workouts over the past couple of years, culminating in unlikely club hit, “Mouth To Mouth” late last year. As with other Ghostly artists - like avant hip hop producer Dabrye who also records techno as Tadd Mullinix - it’s probably wise to forget what you know in preparation for this record, which reaches the shops in early June.

Dear throws a lot at the wall on “Asa Breed” and falls between two musical personas: Eno/Byrne-inspired electro-pop innovator and, more unexpectedly, Texan Tom Waits delivering sun scorched tales in laconic baritone. Not since Beck was in his prime has an artist been simultaneously both so futurist yet rooted in genre traditions.

Tracks like “Will Gravity Win Tonight?” open as anyone who heard Dear’s Fabric mix might plausibly expect but they quickly shift into wholly unanticipated territory. “Good To Be Alive” could be the most perfectly formed four minutes of modern pop music this year. From a processed plucked-string Afro melody and 4/4 beat, it builds up electro claps and synth riffs around a repeated vocal to grow a groove that’s then punctured with increasingly intense electro squelching. Pause... and it all drops back in. It's an understanding of what makes machines ‘groove’ that couldn’t have been learned outside of nightclubs. And then the track that follows it sounds like Mark Lanegan!

Not everything works; “Pom Pom” sounds like Erasure covering one of Kraftwerk’s more throwaway moments and in places the record leans a little heavily on Talking Heads and Eno and Byrne’s “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts”, the reference point most reviewers will probably reach for as they struggle with this uncategorisable record. Whatever, what’s certain is that “Asa Breed” is defiantly not what you were expecting.


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