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Matthew Dear - Backstroke

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Artist: Matthew Dear

Album: Backstroke

Label: Spectral Sound

Review date: Jul. 6, 2004

Matthew Dear’s solo releases for Spectral Sound represent his best work. He’s recorded for other labels under the False and Jabberjaw aliases, but on his solo documents, Dear captured the core of his character via a line of brilliantly realised records, climaxing with last year’s long player, Leave Luck to Heaven. Dear’s production on these Spectral releases was needle-point sharp, jittery, full of strange pop music and carbonated techno.

But his latest record, Backstroke, sounds thin: not gauzily thin, not lean and lithe, but emaciated, sunken-cheeked. Where Leave Luck to Heaven fired bone-cracking edits out of impossibly ornate cannons, the new Dear drags its feet in empty space. The biggest problem is Dear’s vocals, and his attempts to reconcile his earlier work with song form. Dear’s vocal interjections on previous records consisted of simple mantras and endlessly repeated phrases, but now he’s fleshing things out, going for songs, verses and choruses. It shows up his lack as a vocalist: there’s something impossibly dry and bony about Dear’s voice, and he comes off jaded, like a minimal-house version of Bill Callahan. He’s also not much of a ‘song-writer,’ pinning his lyrics on tetchy techno, assuming that the two stapled together will somehow elevate these slight slices into some kind of lyrical sublime.

Leave Luck to Heaven captured Dear at a moment of consolidation, where his tactile, physical/fissile tracks grasped some floating signifiers from pop music’s overcast sub-history (the blemished pop of early New Order, the fey dystopia of Depeche Mode) and placed them in service to the funktional and the frisky. The music was catchy and utilitarian, tactile and crackling with energy. But on Backstroke Dear misfires. Consolidation often begets a fall from relevance, and the thin, bored tone of much of this record suggests that most unpleasant of scenarios: that an artist, having made some kind of definitive document, is doomed to eternal re-runs of lesser quality. Dear will hopefully avoid that, but Backstroke, coming a little too hot on Leave Luck to Heaven’s clicked heels, sounds lazy.

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of Matthew Dear

Leave Luck To Heaven

Body Language, Vol. 7

Black City

Read More

View all articles by Jon Dale

Find out more about Spectral Sound

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