Why is one of 2009’s best records absolutely free?

For the longest time, Matt O’Hare has paid his dues by taking on one of the most thankless jobs in mankind’s history: theatrical sound designer.

Gathering rare and sometimes impossible-to-find songs, crafting sound effects and elaborate cues meant to be triggered at moments notice, and sometimes even writing songs specifically for a show can be a positively daunting effort. The person who can successfully tackle an effects-heavy production like Mnemonic or The Skriker is worthy of a medal of some sort, but — for the musically-inclined — sound designing is nothing short of the ultimate training ground for bigger things.

It is here where you have to deal with meeting specific challenges, often having to reach far outside your comfort zone to get results. It is through this process that Matt O’Hare has been able to hone his craft, learning everything he can before applying it to his own music. Back in 2006, O’Hare was once quoted as saying that he rarely writes music for himself, simply because he found it much easier to write for pre-existing material, like his score for the Hangar Theater production of Art built almost entirely out of soft guitar harmonics. Yet after tackling an expansive, ambitious design for the Trinity Rep/Brown production of The Maids in February of this year, O’Hare gradually began working on 1983, his first album under the pseudonym Motorcycles Are Everywhere.

What’s amazing about this little electro-rock gem is just how well it all holds together. Playing every instrument himself, O’Hare manages to keep things propulsive, never once coming off like a laptop-rock project some kid did in his spare time.

There’s a real vitality coursing through the album, and the whole thing can best be described as a mixture between Merriweather Post Pavillion-era Animal Collective and the more aggressive side of Depeche Mode. Drum beats and synth patterns are cut up and thrown together with an almost reckless abandon, the whole album sounding chaotic at first but gradually revealing itself as a remarkably considered record after multiple listens.

Things open with the positively demented noise squall of “Astray”, which, oddly, is the least accessible song on the whole record, the verses poised on the brink of breaking into static explosions but never keeping that promise, instead using shout-along vocals during the chorus and some very subtle synth lines to lull the track away from a complete breakdown (it’s the following track, “(chant)”, that delivers the hinted-at explosion).

Though 1983 is a very aggressive disc, the most surprising moments tend to be the ones where O’Hare succumbs to the calling of the fully-blown pop song, like on the positively stunning dance number “Beautiful Criminal”, where an escalating club beat is cross-spliced with monosyllabic vocal samples that in turn wind up pronouncing the track’s title (which is later followed by a beautiful acoustic guitar coda). The simple ballad “The Photographer”, meanwhile, recalls OK Computer-era Radiohead, fully echoing that band’s trademarks without once devolving into strict imitation.

Whispers of Aphex Twin, Nude-era VAST, Oval, and the Crystal Method can be heard all throughout the mix, but no matter how you slice it, 1983 is a fantastic debut from a more-than-promising talent. Yet as expansive as Motorcycles Are Everywhere’s sonic template is, perhaps we’ve overlooked the most amazing part of O’Hare’s debut: it’s absolutely free.

So why would someone release an album so good to an unsuspecting public free of charge? Perhaps O’Hare is simply wishing to reach as large an audience as possible, or maybe this is just a way of building up support for a touring version of MAE set to debut next year. We can speculate on O’Hare’s motivations all we want, but the one thing that can be agreed on is this: 1983 is a terrific first effort, and hopefully it’s just the first sign of better things to come.