Matthew Dear‘s output over the years has been extraordinary, diverse, and challenging, just like the label he set up with Sam Valenti, Ghostly International, from which he releases under his own name and guises Audion, Jabberjaw, and False, surveying various musical styles that use Detroit techno as a spiritual kind of touchstone (remember 1999’s “Hands Up For Detroit”?). When he released 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven, it was obvious that his work was about creating new boundaries as well as pushing them, since he starting mixing pop with minimal techno, creating a different kind of radiantly intelligent electronic music which has continued with 2004’s Backstroke, 2007’s Asa Breed and last year’s Black City, the shadowy concept album that meditates on a city that never sleeps.
It is unsurprising that his hero is the shape-shifting Brian Eno. He takes the role of composer seriously, as well as that of remixer (for artists as diverse as The Postal Service, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Spoon, Liquid Liquid), and in doing so has helped to change the face of modern electronic music. So Dear’s latest EP is a very interesting exercise indeed. The tenderly romantic “Slowdance” from Black City is re-imagined, turned inside out and thrown off the side of a very steep cliff by How to Dress Well, Todd Edwards, and Bear in Heaven. How to Dress Well’s remix is a particular highlight, with the beginning sharing some common ground with PARRKA’s 2007 mashup of Grizzly Bear’s “Knife” and The Knife’s “Heartbeats”; the eerie vocals, the distorted, yearning choir, and the ghostly nod to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” all add to the nostalgic feel.
This is actually a theme of the whole project – nostalgia, with Todd Edwards looking back to the golden age of funk, replaying the phrase “unlock your soul” several times while strings, charmingly tinny drums, and a glowing, soulful atmosphere emerge, and Bear in Heaven revisits the ’80’s, with heaving synths knocking on the door of the psychedelic sound Jon Philpot loves so well.
There are a couple of remixes that don’t really work. “Little People” by Mark E and Sascha are standard dancefloor fare, but Nicolas Jaar’s minimalist sense of “You Put a Smell on Me” nicely leads into Breakbot’s retro synth remix. But the best is probably Photocall’s – the beginning sounds like Fred Astaire tip-tapping his way to an underground marching band led by Peaches and Egyptian Lover.
The coda to the EP is new track “Innh Dahh” which washes over you like soft, dewy rain, leading you to imagine that perhaps you dreamed all of the grimy, spirited irreverence of the past 50 minutes, but that’s the beauty of Dear. He takes you on the most eclectic of journeys, even when his own work is being remixed, and though he movingly sings “I can’t begin to tell you that everything’s fine” on the EP’s title track, we’ll stick with him.