In 2007, music fans who participate in the commercial construct known as "indie rock" listen to everything from Amerie to Luomo, M.I.A. to Young Jeezy. What was once a personal ideology is now a marketed genre that doesn't preclude one from indulging in decidedly un-indie musical spheres.
But some indie rockers still adhere to the classical mold, where "indie" means young white guys playing guitars and singing out of key. For them, pop, rap and especially techno offer affronts. In fact, few genres are as specialized as electronic dance music, where one DJ makes minimal techno while another makes Detroit house and still another just messes with trance. The proliferation of micro-genres seems designed to discourage scene outsiders.
And then there's Matthew Dear. He's like a living rebuke to those who still claim that all electronic music is stenciled and soulless. Dear reaches beyond the bounds of techno toward a more universally inviting pop/techno hybrid. Dear was the first signing, in 1999, to the now-influential Ann Arbor electronic music imprint Ghostly International, and the path his music navigates between techno's dance floor and pop music's stage is the foundation of Ghostly's aesthetic.
Dear isn't content to pick one of electronic dance music's many furrows and plow it relentlessly. Rather, as if in a nod to techno's multiple personalities, he records in different styles under different names: As Audion, he's a dance floor heater with a brash swagger. As False, he's a minimal techno epicure. But the music Dear records under his own name is also his most traditionally human. Dear as Dear is an experimental pop auteur who hammers his beats—durable and cumbersome or fragile and buoyant—into verse/chorus song forms, multi-tracking his droll baritone (a quirky mix of Ian Curtis and Bela Lugosi) all over the place.
Dear achieved his most effective marriage of electronic dance music and personality-driven pop this year with Asa Breed. It's a paradoxically moody yet sunny album, ably hopscotching tones and styles. The lugubrious "Deserter" seems a spot-on homage to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," with its splashy yet spindly mechanical drums and melancholy rainbow of synths. "Fleece on Brain" is a clip-clopping braid of percussion and rubbery synth tones with a cinematic Western feel, while "Shy" is moist, robotic funk. The minimal rhythm track of "Pom Pom" gets dressed up with sprightly new wave gauzes, and "Vine to Vine" re-imagines Gothic country & western as ketamine club music. Dear's subtle, immersive production and overstated vocals blend into something like a beat-fueled recapitulation of popular 20th-century music.
Were he to recreate this music only with a laptop live, his on-album charisma would run the risk of being lost. But he refuses to lurk behind the boards. While Asa Breed was simply credited to Dear, his touring apparatus is called Matthew Dear's Big Hands, acknowledging that the performance is an extension—not a re-creation—of Dear's studio work. The Big Hands in question are John Gaviglio (Bear Vs. Shark, Canons) on bass and backup vocals and Mark Maynard (Canons) on percussion. Dear himself mans his laptop and a microphone, dancing and working the stage like a rocker while singing and pruning samples from Asa Breed. Many rock bands toy with electronics, but Dear—true to form—flips that script, too.
Matthew Dear's Big Hands plays Local 506 Friday, Oct. 5, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 day of show and $10 in advance. Mobius Band, who played on Asa Breed, open, along with Opening Flower Happy Bird.