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Matthew Dear - Leave Luck To Heaven

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Artist: Matthew Dear

Album: Leave Luck To Heaven

Label: Spectral Sound

Review date: Jan. 29, 2004

Matthew Dear hit the ground running in 2003, applying such aliases as False and Jabberjaw and tossing off 12”s like the world was about to end. And he played his cards exceptionally well, managing to withhold the real goods until the very end. Leave Luck To Heaven is one of those fairly rare full-length, genre-centric techno records that can actually engage a listener from start to finish, inserting a good deal of inventiveness without straying far from the idiom. Dear accomplishes this feat by tucking some incredibly catchy vocals— provided by the producer himself— into the folds of his seductively minimal techno, and honing the instrumental tracks into pop-length excursions.

What first jumps out about this album is Matthew Dear’s vocal presence. Dear knows the limits of his voice and his lyrical abilities so well that they are a non-issue. The verses he has composed are inescapably catchy, tossed off with perfectly mumbled nonchalance. On “But For You” he sings like he has just rolled out of bed. “It’s Over Now” mixes personal relationships and politics in the same pot of simplicity, confusion and ambiguity. “Dog Days,” though, is the centerpiece of the album, perfectly exemplifying Dear’s achievement. It is 80’s synth-pop without sounding retro. The single four-line verse gets catchier each time it is repeated, and the vocal is both prominently placed and understated enough to sink comfortably into the mix. The track concludes with a fragment of digitally twisted conversation in which someone, presumably Dear, offers a lesson in casual soulfullness: "You can’t try to sing… You can’t force it, you know?”

Dear’s sonic craftsmanship is undeniably impressive, resulting in music that is minimal but not so reductive as to render the tracks indistinguishable. His percussive palette mingles standard disco handclaps and hi-hats with more modern, closely trimmed clicks and high-resolution rattles. He molds these elements into a steady stream of funky 4/4 grooves that hover between techno, house, and old-school disco, with that 80’s synth-pop influence popping up enjoyably throughout. Dear never really departs from the minimal techno tag, evoking a certain shadowy allure, an introverted sexiness. But by incorporating diverse elements and whittling the results into pop-sized portions, he succeeds in holding the listener’s attention in a way that more dancefloor-oriented techno does not.

Leave Luck To Heaven does possess subtlety. “Nervous Laughter,” the brief album opener, is, despite its title, a curtain of sweetly percussive synth, a bit of beatless digital utopia that never returns. The subsequent “Fex” suggests similar beauty, as digital waves break softly over a funky house beat. “The Crush” emits an infectiously subdued elation. But despite such moments, the album never really ventures out from its emotional home territory, and familiarity begins to overshadow the allure after a few listens. Nevertheless, an album that manages to deliberately stay within the framework of a fairly crowded genre and still arrive at something as original as this is definitely worth checking out. Like any good pop music, the enjoyment continues beyond the point when all the surprises have been exhausted. In this way Leave Luck To Heaven never really succumbs to the setting-in of familiarity. It is a definite success.

By Jesse Serrins

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