Apparently Matthew Dear’s forthcoming album, Beams, is a brighter affair than its predecessor, the relentlessly sleazy Black City. So far we’ve heard “Headcage“, which confirms this notion, and the opener “Her Fantasy”, which gives the lie to it. The B-side to the latter is “Crimewaves” (see above), and it sees Dear nail the bipolar aesthetic firmly on the head.
The bouncy, nervous white-boy funk recalls Talking Heads at their most affected, while the vocals are multi-tracked and troubled. The way those stabs of simulated brass pierce through the orgiastic wash of background cooing makes the funhouse lead vocal that bit more warped. It’s as if the funfair ride has spiralled out of control, taking its crazed passenger on the trip of nightmares.
Near the end, there’s also a masterful about-turn which references, I’m sure, “Little People (Black City)”. What’s even more gauche is the way it gets to it: a messy soup of digital gloop, which slowly resolves into a stacked choral sucker-punch.
There’s a young Barcelonan called John Talabot, who’s making waves in techno like he’s our generation’s Ricardo Villalobos. Well, he’s not nearly so minimalist, but there’s certainly an economy to his production style that gives his work a capacious quality. His début, the conclusively-titled ƒIN, explores a diverse range of styles, flirting with chillwave and glo-fi (two genres I usually think pale in comparison to their illustrious forebear, Panda Bear) but also reaching far-out places that evoke comparison with someone like Floating Points.
“Journeys”, which features a guest turn at the microphone from Ekhi, takes the Panda Bear connection a step further—not only are the vocals a facsimile of Noah Lennox’s, but the music has a bouncy, carnivalesque feel reminiscent of Animal Collective. Opening track “Depak Ine” (see above), meanwhile, is more expansive, with a combination of croaking frogs and intergalactic rhythms that’s part Gang Gang Dance, part Matthew Dear. Elsewhere, things are geared more explicitly at the 2AM dancefloor, with “When The Past Was Present” giving off a Balearic headrush, and the closing track “So Will Be Now…” riding along squirming acid house bass, rather like The Rapture’s “Olio” back in 2003.
The range displayed on ƒIN makes it a sometimes disjointed listen; however, it’s to Talabot’s credit that it sounds even half as self-contained. Taken individually, his tracks bear traces of specialness that we associate with someone who is surely going to hit the big-time pretty soon. Prophetic listening is advised.
I haven’t yet seen Steve McQueen’s latest film, Shame, but I think I know an album that would work well as a soundtrack to it. Like McQueen, Matthew Dear is in a stable relationship but chose to make an uncomfortable work that flirts with sleaze and moral degradation—Black City is a punishing, oily album that demands total subjugation. Its centrepiece, “You Put A Smell On Me” (see above), is heartless and relentless, rather like the anti-hero in McQueen’s film.
In a previous, improbable life, Matthew Dear wrote “Hands Up For Detroit“, a small vocal phrase of which wound up serving as the backbone of the mother of all exercise anthems. Then he flirted with virtually every kind of music he loved, topping all he’d done before with 2010’s Black City, a sleazy slice of downtempo minimalism with a spiritual debt to Bowie’s Low (profile).
This year, he returns with the long-player Beams, which is preluded by the Headcage EP. The title track (see above) takes the noirish, oily grooves of Black City and gently sculpts them into something more softly polyphonic. The song bounces and trots where it might previously have oozed. The beat is more muffled too, a step away from the clattering, misfiring drum machines of old. And Dear’s vocals—always the Marmite factor in his work—are, while still digitally ameliorated, there to invoke a very different mood. The smearing lead voice is backed up a ghostly beatbox more in the vein of some of the songs on 2007’s Asa Breed.
In the final third, a synth patch not dissimilar to Fever Ray’s ethnic flutes  plays a lead riff which provides a brief and subtle nod to rave. All too soon, it vanishes, and the breathy outro makes sure the take-home message is a sensual one.
1. “Headcage” is actually co-produced by Fever Ray’s frequent collaborators, Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid.
This time last year, I bored you all to death with my fifteen favourite albums of 2009. At the time, I suggested my list was not very useful because I had spent much of the year catching up on older music thanks to Spotify.
A year on, plus ça change. A friend told me he was surprised to see Fleetwood Mac extremely high on the list of most-listened to music on Spotify. I told him I was probably the reason behind this.
Nevertheless, for (non)completists’ sake, I shall persist with this probably pointless exercise. It might give you some weird insight into my warped tastes, at least.
Because I don’t wish to look like a slacker, you can also expect me to publish a list with albums I will get round to listening to in the near future. Continue reading Under-informed profligacy – Favourite Albums of 2010