Let’s face it: not every album deserves to come out of the vault. Not every collection of unreleased demos needs to be released as a long-player. But in an age where art is driven by marketability, you really can’t expect artists to hide their outtakes forever. The least you can do is hope that the outtakes add depth to the artist’s storyline and provide a more personal glimpse into their creative process.
On paper, Matthew Dear’s Preacher’s Sigh & Potion: Lost Album seems like the kind of album that deserves to come out of the vault. After all, these tracks were recorded in 2008-09, when Dear was in the midst of a legendary musical about-face. After 2007’s tech-house masterpiece Asa Breed, Dear went rock ‘n’ roll on 2010’s Black City, an LP of sexy, funked-out experimental rock that marked one of the most exciting transformations in electronic music.
The interesting thing about Preacher’s Sigh is that, even though it was written directly between Asa Breed and Black City, it doesn’t resemble either one. The techno flourishes of Asa Breed aren’t entirely absent here, but they are few and far between. And whereas Black City was built around the concept of an imaginary metropolis, Preacher’s Sigh feels like it’s made for some lone highway out in rural Texas. This LP has more in common with Emmylou Harris than anything else in Matthew Dear’s discography.
The first track, “Muscle Beach”, is a sultry piece of desert rock led by a clapping beat and bluesy acoustics. It feels straight out of Delta territory. “Crash and Burn” takes things even further, with its steely, angular riff, manic vocals, and nervy harmonica. And on “Heart to Sing”, Dear takes us down a backcountry lane of slide guitar and mumble-sung choral vocals. This is the rawest material Dear has graced us with yet.
All too often, however, Preacher’s Sigh & Potion feels too stiff and unyielding for a country-rock album. On tracks like “Sow Down”, there is a tentative, hesitant quality to the vocals that doesn’t quite match the music around it. “You, you put me in this quarter/ and you, you will pay the price/ I, I will be the lion/ and you, you will be the mice,” Dear says, but it’s hard to think of him as a lion when his singing is so subdued. On “Eye”, the verses are sung in an almost robotic, matter-of-fact tone that feels out of sync with the acoustics’ melancholy tone.
What’s more, many of the tracks here are repetitive to a fault. While you can’t expect a lost album like this one to be as dynamic as Black City or Asa Breed, it’s hard not to feel like these songs could’ve used some more fleshing out. There is a half-finished quality to Preacher’s Sigh & Potion that doesn’t exactly work in its favor. Paired with all the awkward vocals and lyrical misfires, it’s questionable whether or not this LP deserved to come out of Matthew Dear’s vault. Preacher’s Sigh may be an interesting footnote in Dear’s musical evolution, but it lacks the sureness and swagger of his best records.