Headcage begins where last year’s Slowdance EP left off, sharing an inventiveness; creating driving, hazy, and atmospheric dance music. What separates Matthew Dear from many of his contemporaries is the nourishing feel to many of his compositions, and the intelligent warmth he breathes into them. While some of his previous records such as 2007’s Asa Breed had something of a hard edge, there was also a radiance, and 2010’s Black City might have been particularly melancholic, yet was steeped in romanticism.
Those embers glow around both EP’s, with Headcage‘s title track acting as a coda to Slowdance (boding well for forthcoming LP Beams), with lush instrumentation, and playful use of Dear’s vocal, elevating it to another kind of instrument. The song is pleasingly busy (co-produced by Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid), with searching synths, and a cacophony of beats that mesmerise, with Dear coaxing his imaginary confidante to sleep, before we reach a crescendo that involves a piercing synth, coalescing voices, and what sounds like an electronic till.
“Street Song” begins as a (very) alternative “Careless Whisper” with echoey synths, but while it looks backwards, it doesn’t fit neatly into nostalgia. This is partly because of the cooing vocal, and the flute-sounding synth, which leaves you with the sense this song comes from a distant place entirely. “Around a Fountain” is a sister composition; equally intimate, with a dubby sensibility and choral aspect – sending a prayer out into the good night. “I don’t need to tell you much”, Dear sings, and he really doesn’t, as long as it remains as beautifully unsettling as this.
“In the Middle (I Met You There)” is the highlight, with a dreamy, layered, and beat-heavy intro that Daedelus would be proud of, that evolves into a showcase for the lovely vocal of The Drums’ Jonathan Pierce, which eventually Dear squashes like bad fruit to gain great, melodic rewards. This, set amidst an electronic landscape, that mixes a classical sensibility and a love of pop (bringing to mind Owen Pallett and Grizzly Bear) is what makes this one of the best songs of Dear’s long and varied career.
Essential Tracks: “In the Middle (I Met You There)”