Leave Luck to Heaven
eave Luck To Heaven” apparently is the rough English translation of the Japanese word “Nintendo”. But don’t peg Matthew Dear as another nostalgic pioneer of classic 8-bit video game music. The only inspiration Dear derives from those old sounds is the sense of confined minimalism. Consequently, Dear has chosen to work within the not-too-distant field of techno music. His material ranges from chunky dance floor-filling house to smooth, dark atmospherics, but his tools are always instantly recognizable (where would a classic techno cut be without a squelchy acid bass line?). When you put this album on, it’s like revisiting Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for the first time in years. The soundtrack instantly conjures up emotions from the past, simultaneously entertaining and reminding the listener just how far music has evolved.
Unfortunately, I’ve been anticipating this release far too long. Of all the other progressive techno releases this year from up-and-coming hot-shit producers (including the often-compared Ricardo Villalobos), this was primed to be the best. After some spunky tracks for Richie Hawtin’s Plus 8 label under the name False, a 12” for the Perlon label under his Jabberjaw guise, and a couple of EPs for Spectral, Matthew Dear’s first single from this album, “Dog Days”, raised my expectations to unrealistic proportions. “Dog Days” is one of those primal techno cuts that comes along only once a year and fits suitably into every possible environment (dancefloor, home, car) like that new pair of jeans you never wash because they’re constantly in rotation. If you wanted to become a fan of minimal techno, you would just have to listen to this track once, and voilà, instant fan. So, it’s meaningless to say that the rest of the album doesn’t quite measure up. Instead, let’s just talk about “Dog Days” for a moment, shall we?
The recipe for a great techno track is pretty universal. A jerky little beat, a slinky little bassline and a funky little keyboard hook; mix it up in different proportions, layering them one on top of the other; heat this for six-plus minutes and you’re done. But like great chocolate chip cookies, it’s all about the freshness of the ingredients. Here, Dear uses his most accessible, chunky bassline and laces his own etherized vocals over top, chanting them like a familiar nursery rhyme. Then, when it’s coming together and kicking, he does what any good minimalist techno artist does… he kicks in an identical bassline over the other and ups the volume a bit. All of sudden, the crowd’s hands are in the air and the wallflowers are asking each other who the hell this Matthew Dear guy is anyway.
Vocals!? Oh yeah, the vocals. They work so well in fact, that I’m left longing to hear his voice on ALL the album’s tracks. However, Dear gives each vocal cut an opportunity to breathe between other less-focused instrumental offerings. Tracks like “Huffing Stuff”, “An Unbending” and especially the Polygon Window sound-alike “You’re Fucking Crazy” bring absolutely nothing new, and certainly not anything interesting, to the table. Actually, the album eats like pigs-in-a-blanket, with the soft, syrupy instrumentals insulating and highlighting the meaty showstoppers, “Just Us Now”, “But For You”, “Dog Days” and “It’s Over Now”. Only “But For You” comes close to equaling the majesty of “Dog Days”, mostly because it doesn’t tinker at all with the formula (oh the precious, sweet formula!). Dear employs more sing-speak mumblings (“Little girl on corner sucking on her thumb/Man and woman contemplating love”) over a few keyboard stabs before he brings in a muffled throbbing synth hook for the chorus, and what you end up with is that great unreleased Cybotron b-side.
Why, oh why couldn’t the rest of the album be like this? Maybe I’m just a doubter, a hater. Maybe I don’t adequately reciprocate the love techno music has given to me over the years, but Leave Luck to Heaven sounds less like a big step forward, and more like a new talent who is still having fun playing on the tracks that the techno forefathers have laid. But we must remember a divinely lucky stepchild known as the Famicom (aka the Nintendo Entertainment System) which was rejected early on by its elder pioneer Atari before striking out on it’s own with a revolutionary game called Super Mario Brothers and single-handedly saving a dwindling industry on the verge of extinction. If that’s the luck Matthew Dear is referring to, then any review of this album will be obsolete in a couple years when he bangs out twelve more tracks like “Dog Days”.
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2003-12-01