Matthew Dear takes the premise of dance music and filters it through a vocoder; music that’s eminently boogieable, but off-kilter and uncanny, like a Grimm fairytale. We review his new album ‘Bunny’.
Take ‘You Put A Smell On Me’ off his 2010 record Black City; the truncating synthlines are symptomatic of electro or even acid house, but Dear’s mangled vocals and the marching kickdrums sound almost goth rock, as if The Cure got really into Detroit techno, or Nick Cave turned to modular synthesisers. Bunny maintains his brand of fucking weird dance music, and I am for one am thankful for it.
For opener ‘Bunny’s Dream’ Dear roped in Protomartyr guitarist Greg Ahee to lay down an echoey jam beneath his resonant synth pads and dense vocal flourishes. ‘Modafinil Blues’ spews out husky vapourwave accompanied by a grooving bassline, and ‘Electricity’ is effectively a 80s-era Bowie B-Side, purposeful bass and drums wrestled by Dear at his most vocally mangled; but all these tracks are sustained by a mediating structure, which Dear uses as a platform to safely probe the absurd. It’s curious that it’s when Dear veers too close to the avant garde that he sounds his most uncertain and tentative, the techno funk of ‘Moving Man’ and asinine glide of closer ‘Before I Go’ too uninteresting to vindicate its absence of any punchy melody.
Dear defers to his dormant pop sensibilities on both ‘Horses’ and ‘Bad Ones’, both tracks featuring Tegan & Sara, and both arguably the record’s highlights. A downtempo disco distortion builds up to a venerable 4×4 kickdrum and whistling dirge on ‘Horses’, whimsical but mechanically polished, and ‘Bad Ones’ adopts a humble melody to centralise Tegan & Sara’s bespoke vocals, sounding like a disenchanted Passion Pit. These are pop songs – they possess the rhythms and contours of pop songs – but pop songs bifurcated by surrealism, by an unexpected sonic boom of white noise, a discordantly gentle guitar against a shimmering beat, and it’s fantastic. Bunny never reaches the eccentric heights of records like Black City or Asa Breed, but when Dear’s interest in making something inherently pop is conjured up like a cobra by his producers and friends to collaborate with his fucking weirdness, it comes damn close.