American micro-house golden boy Matthew Dear has been inching toward an all-out pop assault since 2003’s breakthrough Leave Luck to Heaven. His reliance on the 4/4 beat has steadily diminished, and his incorporation of a prominent vocal presence and pop-oriented songwriting has increased, noticeably on 2004’s Backstroke and now on Asa Breed, where it’s front and center. For an artist as diverse as Dear (he also records as Audion, his foray into the international techno scene), this evolution comes as no surprise. Even looking back to his debut single, “Hands Up for Detroit,” he has always had a penchant for accessibility and a golden melodic sensibility. Asa Breed finds him exploring a new kind of pop music, incorporating his compositional gifts as a finely detailed songwriter and retaining the signature bouncy electronic soundscape he became famous for crafting.
Lead single “Deserter” and “Neighborhoods” accurately display the logical evolution of Dear as an artist. Both tracks are mid-tempo, with a subtle 4/4 beat and complementary soothing vocals, but they are made memorable by the melodic, micro-detailed electronic instrumentation that carries them. “Don and Sherri” is the most dance-floor ready track of the bunch, although it meanders for more than two minutes before the chorus reaches its breakneck speed, kicking the tempo up to its highest notch. This newest version of Matthew Dear is best experienced on “Death to Feelers.” He questions himself (“I was supposed to make grand observations/ but I’ve lost my train of thought/ His focus has been replaced with laughter/ Is this the path I’ve chosen to walk?”) over a repetitive keyboard, spacey electronics and a live drum, never offering any meaning or understanding, resulting in a deeply affecting sense of confusion that lasts much longer than the three-minute track.
Asa Breed is the statement of an esteemed electronic artist ultimately making his personal rendition of a pop record. He’s exploring here his version of accessibility — the brightest and healthiest cornerstones of his own sonic foundation. The album is at times confused, playful, downtrodden and optimistic. Most important, it is the document of an artist reaching into the shadows and crevices of his own aesthetic, unafraid to bring his discoveries to the surface.