SCQ Rating: 75%
Matthew Dear’s pop trajectory looked pretty well paved out in wake of 2007’s Asa Breed. He’d abandoned some techno momentum in favour of catchy dynamics and streamlined his lyricism to a contagious filter of kinetic longings – the sort of template one could technically run on for years. But those who anticipated Dear’s eventual follow-up to carry a sound closer to the rave-up dance styling of LCD Soundsystem were roundly bemused when Black City reorganized the tenets of dance music around Dear’s carnal instincts. Looming on sinister rhythms and abrasive layers, Black City was difficult enough to navigate without guessing what lay on the horizon of its outskirts but that reality – here in the form of Headcage EP – isn’t some terrifying sequel.
Instead, these four songs thrive on the same off-kilter rhythms and Dear’s warped growls but breathe a little sparser than usual. Stripped of its saturated layers, the title track’s stuttering chorus hook feels sharp and purposeful next to its curious, near-funky bounce. The success of ‘Headcage’ as a return to less art-damaged origins merely hints at the surprises on this new EP, since the subsequent material finds Dear’s go-to sonic trademarks increasingly evaporative. His always claustrophobic sense of percussion feels thwarted by the relaxed organ permeating ‘In the Middle (Where I Met You)’ and the choral ambience stretching ‘Around a Fountain’ over minimal techno patterings.
It’s a brave move for any electronic artist – reducing one’s overall attack to a nuanced exercise in bare-boned songwriting – and I think a natural reaction for many fans will be to decry its focus as something undercooked. But Dear has made a firm believer of me with this song-cycle, offering a sleeper set of new tunes that seek peace as much as a reliably strange beat to live by. In the wake of Black City’s cesspool of confrontational armor, Headcage EP sounds as though Dear’s cleansing himself for another evolution.