Album Review: Matthew Dear – Preacher’s Sigh & Potion: Lost Album

[Ghostly International; 2021]

2007 was an exciting year for Matthew Dear. Though he was a well known and respected name on the techno-electro scene, his album Asa Breed carried forward and excelled praise from his 2003 debut album Leave Luck To Heaven. Asa Breed was positively carnival-like and party-ready, all while Dear made use of his vocals on every track for the first time. Where he would go next (and how he might maintain the winning streak) was something on listeners’ minds as he spent the following years traveling, remixing big name bands, and touring (including an opening slot for Hot Chip).

The follow-up that came in 2010, the oil-slick and gritty Black City, was a shift in tone and texture, but was a critically-acclaimed hit through and through. It wasn’t always the plan though. After more than a decade on the shelf, Dear has brought Preacher’s Sigh & Potion to light, answering the question about what exactly the immediate follow-up sound to Asa Breed was intended to be.

Centring on numerous guitar loops, hasty ideas of cowboys on the run, and nostalgia for his late father’s fingerpicking guitar playing, this self-described ‘lost album’ sounds like it has come straight from the dusty shelves on which it was stored for many years. The textures are jagged and distorted, the lyrics are mostly nonsensical and feel spontaneously captured, and the whole thing sounds like an awkward genre-fusing experiment that doesn’t feel like it warrants its own noted release.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments with elements to enjoy, if not just moments with potential. “Supper Times” is darkly sparkly, teasing that jet-black sleekness that would permeate Black City, while the opening pair of tracks “Muscle Beach” and “Sow Down” are worthy enough ventures into glitzy, twitchy electro country-folk. “Muscle Beach” shines that bit more, feeling fleshed out with its clacking drums and guitar-twang swagger – but it still feels like a curious b-side or experimental off-cut that isn’t fully formed.

“Hikers Y” is a downright slinky groove, complete with a rubbery bassline that sounds like a jittery play on Thom Yorke’s “Atoms For Peace”. The mindless repeated mantra “I’m through with conversation / So don’t expect anymore conversation” becomes tedious all too quickly though; were the track reworked instrumentally then it’d be ready to fill a dancefloor. Likewise, “All Her Fits” might have carried more weight and emotional significance were it given a little love and sheen, but as it is it’s a crude, unsubtle shadow of the gentle moments found at the end of Black City.

Elsewhere, the album is a collection of ideas that may have some intriguing sonic features, but still feel like unmastered demos extracted from a corroded hard drive. “Heart To Sing”‘s guttural guitar strings suffocate the track, which itself feels like a passable 90-second interlude stretched to four minutes. The looping, scraping percussion on “Eye” sounds like someone dragging a boulder underwater, and is nauseating more than anything else (offsetting the attempt at an ethereal moment amidst the prickly synth arpeggios). Meanwhile, the brief “Never Divide” seems destined to evoke no emotional reaction whatsoever with its hushed, indiscernible vocals.

Dear has always been a playful musician, and he’s never been afraid to show his experimentation either. He never was one for making clean electro-pop, but the ragged textures on Preacher’s Sigh become grating; one understands Dear’s desire to retain the original scrappy sound, but just a little bit of mastering might have made these 11 tracks a bit more appealing to the ears. There are the bones of an album here – scribbled ideas hiding between the frustratingly testing repeating guitar loops – but it’s far from even a full skeleton.

Is it fair to pass such critical judgement on an album that’s deliberately not fully-formed though? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean Preacher’s Sigh & Potion is any more enjoyable and engrossing to listen to. It’s a curiosity that probably would have been better packaged alongside an anniversary edition of Asa Breed, or just scattered amidst Dear’s Backstroke releases (which are much more rewarding listens if you want a glimpse into the musician’s vaults). It’s hard to imagine any Matthew Dear fan ever choosing to listen to this over any of his other much more superior and enjoyable albums. Preacher’s Sigh & Potion might as well have just stayed lost.