Matthew Dear deserves some credit for being fully aware of the fact that despite its tendencies towards stone-faced seriousness, techno is kind of an inherently ridiculous art form. But rather than treat the whole thing like a joke, he has built his varied and impressive career around mangling the world of beeps and boops into one cognisant of soul and emotion, even if there’s a healthy dollop of lust. This is the guy, remember, who once channelled Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ for a song on 2010’s Black City and somehow made it sound even filthier.
Moving away from the weirdo-pop Dear has been releasing under his own name, he has spent the past few years increasing his DJ schedule and fully immersing himself in creating music for big rooms, dusty tents, and sweaty warehouses. It’s a far cry from the micro-house of his early days or the chin-scratching insularity of his work under the name False.
Alpha has been a long time coming. Dear revived the Audion alias in 2013 and has been promising an imminent new album since. You can see why it took a while: for a style of music often accused of being disposable and shallow, the tracks here show a careful attention to detail, the production and mastering working in tandem to keep things crisp and ensure maximum impact. ‘Gut Man Cometh’ and ‘Sucker’ employ processed vocals against the punchy drum machines and slick synth lines, implying a bizarre world where one of Dear’s pop songs has been fed through a meat grinder.
The common problem with albums made up of tracks designed mostly for club settings is that they do not translate very easily into listening at home while eating snacks and wearing clothes prioritised for comfort over impression. It’s why there are many techno artists I can praise to the heavens despite the fact that I can never bear to sit through an entire album. Dear makes some concessions towards the album format for Alpha to avoid falling into this pit. The LP is bookended by ‘Dem’ and ‘Sicko’, the former being an effective mood setter, with a roiling low-end bass, and the latter being the most outwardly strange thing here, suggesting a modular synth rack gaining sentience and slowly going insane from an existential crisis. Interludes ‘Celestial Antibody’ and ‘Bob The Builder’ serve as breathers before diving right back into the fray.
However, this does not always work – tracks like ‘Suppa’ and ‘Timewarp’ don’t offer enough to invite revisiting, and I leave the album wishing for more moments like the shuffle of ‘Zunk Synth’ or the spacewalk ‘There Was A Button’. Alpha is made up of many tracks that any self-respecting DJ would be wise to keep close over the coming months, and that’s enough to justify the return of Dear’s passion for 2am raving. For all the fun it offers as a home listen, you still get the sense that perhaps it’d be better served in an area surrounded by revellers and speakers that weren’t bought in a sale in Currys.