“In a fantasy world—which probably won’t happen—I’d like to take minimal techno and make pop out of it, the same way Depeche Mode and New Order did 15 to 20 years ago,” Matthew Dear told me in a 2003 interview. Guess what? Dear’s fantasy world has become reality.
The transition from techno producer to singing/lyric-writing techno producer is rarely attempted, never mind executed with competence. Sterling examples could be cited on one hand (um, can I get back to you?), which makes this Detroit minimal-techno artist’s stabs at being a laptop-tapping song-and-dance man so refreshing. He established himself in the early ’00s the way most underground-techno savants do: with instrumental cuts geared for dance-floor devastation. But on 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven and 2004’s Backstroke, Dear included his own vocals (think Bill Callahan or Leonard Cohen—low, lugubrious, lecherous), and the results were club gold that also clicked in the bedroom.
Asa Breed finds the man furthering his songcraft within the genre, his flat, sometimes stilted voice complementing his low-slung, artfully spare techno. The disc’s first single, “Deserter,” is twinkling, vaporous electro pop that falls somewhere between Seefeel and the Postal Service, and “Death to Feelers” coheres around an ultra-cute, spangly synth motif that typifies the record’s tension between escapist and earthy inclinations.
Throughout much of Asa Breed, Dear achieves a serendipitous balance between the uplifting and the eerie, the hummable and the hypnotic, the tuneful and the texturally adventurous. You can hear a refreshing strain of electronic pop—with occasional African-inflected rhythms and Jon Hassell–esque ambiance—struggling to be born here. It’s a sly, seductive effort that could help Dear break out of the techno ghetto. (Not that there’s anything wrong with techno ghettos.)