Asa Breed is the third full length album from Matthew Dear under his own name (he's also released music as Audion, False, and Jabberjaw), and is a logical progression from his first two efforts, which found him increasingly flirting with more pop-oriented structures.His debut Leave Luck To Heaven only hinted at things, while his follow-up Backstroke EP took things for more of a straightforward whirl with three-quarters of its running length containing vocals and slightly more standard structures.
With thirteen tracks running a lean forty-five minutes, his newest effort is by no means a grab at chart-topping, it does find him fully embracing vocals, with his words (often-multi-tracked) high in the mix on every single track. Production-wise, he's still cranking out the same sort of slippery minimal dance tracks that he always has been, but the hooks arrive in a slightly different form now, and it's mostly for the better. "Fleece On Brain" kicks things off, and it mingles uneasy synth warbles with a loping beat and some deep vocals from Dear that mainly fall in line with the slightly more understated melodies of the song itself.
"Neighborhoods" is closer to what one would expect from Dear musically, as banging beats pump with slightly gritty synth noises and a slobbery bass roll. Vocally, he takes way more chances on the track, with multiple layers of vocals creating a slightly uneasy chorus that's much more poppy than it first reveals itself to be. Off-kilter dance pop is probably the best way to describe a good portion of Asa Breed, as most tracks work in subtle ways with lovely, textured production and hooks that wedge into your brain without knocking you upside the head. "Deserter" is a perfect example of this, shuffling forward with a rather minimal beat structure that nonetheless flows like a warm stream due to several layers of soft noise and chiming synths while quiet vocals dance rhythmically through the track with oblique references.
At times, lyrics seem a bit too obvious, but its usually at these points that Dear also pushes his songs into more over-the-top mode, making them feel a bit more sarcastic at the same time. "Pom Pom" is the worst offender, with a repeated wheeze of "love" hounded by playful and sometimes downright goofy lines that make it almost impossible to take seriously. After a stunning first batch of nine tracks, perhaps the biggest change arrives during the final four, as Dear shifts gears into a couple tracks that include guitar and less sleek beat programming. It's such a dramatic shift that it's a bit hard to know what to make of things (especially the closing track, which sounds like a bizarre, spoken-word country-influenced piece). Ultimately, it takes a bit of a shine off of the otherwise incredibly-focused album, but perhaps it's just another hint of things to come.