The trouble with dividing yourself into constituent parts is that sometimes there’s just not enough to go around. At its best, the game of bi-/tri-/etc. polarity that’s endemic to dance music encourages an aesthetics of difference, whereby multiplicity becomes the byword. But at its weakest, artists are exposed as charlatan frauds: half-an-idea, no-clue self-promoters.
In his recent book Bring The Noise, Simon Reynolds celebrates electronic music’s tendency toward identity play for "[creating] an effect of distancing, a break with the traditional pop impulse to connect the music to an actual human being." With Asa Breed, Dear sticks with his own name to pledge allegiance to ‘traditional pop impulses’: this is the closest you’ll get to Dear’s soul, Dear as an ‘actual human being.’ The content suggests a producer fighting through ‘80s damage: it’s electro-pop, basically, with ‘proper songwriting,’ singing on every song, occasional detours into acoustic guitars and faux-Americana, etc.
Dear’s other projects False and Audion zoom in on the punitive pleasures of techno-minimalism, resulting in breathless, rhapsodic electronic music, but Asa Breed is wafer-thin, largely because Dear’s vocals and songwriting suffer from structural deficits: the voice is droll and unremarkable; the songs are perfunctory and drained of color. He’s still a great producer, but Dear has a way to go before his populist turn bears results that tally with his self-presentation as an electronic pop maverick. While songs like “Don And Sherri” and the weightless, glassy “Will Gravity Win Tonight?” have superficial appeal, Asa Breed again rehearses the same problems Dear’s been struggling with in solo guise since 2004’s Backstroke: a mysterious kind of character bypass.
So it’s reassuring to be able to say that Dear’s latest album as False, 2007, is up among his best. Striking the perfect balance between austerity and propulsion, 2007 is structured like a DJ set, with every track folding into one another effortlessly. Discrete details are the order of the day here. Witness, for example, the bobbing of abstract melody in the deep sea of reverb that is “Plus Plus,” the toy-box tinkering of the following “Face The Rain,” and the micro-motif that tiptoes through “Dollar Down”: this three-track stretch is 2007’s gentle peak. Lost within the intimate immensity of these productions, you’re all adrift, guided by the gliding restraint of a metronomic pulse that’s more like a buoy in the water. Who knows exactly why it’s so much more powerful than Asa Breed – though it could simply be that unswerving faith in abstraction appeals more these days than noncommittal broaching of pop mores.
By Jon Dale