Twenty-plus years into his career, producer/vocalist/songwriter/DJ Matthew Dear remains artistically unpredictable in pursuit of his prescient strain of electronically-formed, organically-delivered indie pop. His work traverses myriad musical worlds, belonging to none. But these fluid moves have not been without a few forks in the road, decisive turns, and what-ifs. Most notable is the pivot-point following Dear’s acclaimed 2007 avant-pop LP, Asa Breed, in which he broke away from the 4/4 grid of his techno/house debut Leave Luck To Heaven and into something much more wild and idiosyncratic. Traveling between his adopted Detroit and his home state of Texas throughout 2008 and 2009, Dear amassed a set of personal, playful, looping guitar-centric recordings he’d consider for his next album. Given the new momentum of the hybrid electronic pop of Asa Breed which led to an opening slot for Hot Chip and remixes for ‘00 heroes like Spoon and Postal Service, Dear decided to shelf the material. He moved ahead to work on his watershed 2010 album, Black City, a steely noir set which earned him a Best New Music on Pitchfork and a worldwide tour with a besuited band. This “lost album” had a sound, a spirited country romp in the techno barn, and it had a rough title, a scribble on one of the CD-Rs passed to Ghostly label founder Sam Valenti IV, Preacher’s Sigh and Potion. He never fully walked away from it, and merely kept moving down the road, waiting for the audience to catch up. Over a decade later, that time is now.
Preacher’s Sigh and Potion finds Dear unknowingly at an intersection in his young run, a burgeoning songwriter at his most freewheeling and unaffected. In hindsight, there were hints of Preacher’s sound on Asa Breed, but the set still registers endearingly out of step with his eventual direction. This was the first time Dear tapped so directly into his late father’s influence as a fingerpicking guitar player in the 1960s and ‘70s and a gateway to the music of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and Emmylou Harris.
From the twang and tambourine stomp of album opener “Muscle Beach,” to the metronome-like pulse of “Hikers Y” complete with an unmistakable Matthew Dear dryly dismissive mantra, to the gloomy carnival-leaving-town pomp of “Gutters and Beyond,” Preacher’s Sigh and Potion is filled with the reckless notions of an artist dashing the history of pop and rock, the twang of country, the build and release of techno. Dear is an auteur, and in retrospect, so many of his signatures crop up in these relics from his former self. Dear remembers him well: “It’s crazy how music memory exists in a very deep and indescribable tangibility. I know the person who made all these, and remember glimpses of the desk, or studio set up for each recording. I know who wrote these lyrics, and where they were mentally during that process.” Revisiting this material now also has Dear thinking about his father’s legacy:
“He also showed me that anyone can play, and perform for people, regardless of having albums or not. He was a very controlled and skilled guitar player but made it look natural and smooth. He had hundreds of songs in his repertoire and would play them nightly for us in the living room. He lived for music, and I hope I can pass that along to his grandkids.”