If you're attempting to keep tabs on Matthew Dear, Backstroke arrives eight months after Leave Luck to Heaven; during the time between these releases, he produced two more singles for Spectral Sound (including one as the relatively hostile Audion) and another for Richie Hawtin's Minus label (as False), in addition to remixes for Monobox, Lusine, and Håkan Lidbo. By today's silly standard, Backstroke is being classified as a mini-LP, even though it's 40 minutes in length. (The LP version has one less track and is still longer than your AC/DC or early Prince records.) Whatever its designation, Backstroke is a marked turn away from Leave Luck to Heaven, if scarcely a stylistic changeup. Several cuts will indeed serve adequately in the clubs, but the album as a whole is tailored for a more personal setting. "Grut Wall" is an instant standout, one of the handful of instances where Dear continues to tweak the traditional pop-song format. Backward-sounding basslines, cascades of battered keyboard melodies, and multi-tracked vocals make it askew enough to make you feel as if you've just spent too much time on a sit 'n' spin, but the hooks are equally important -- it's the strangest and catchiest song he has made yet. On "Tide," everything is tangled up with great intricacy and is nearly as insidious and addictive when balled together, assisted by another refrain that could double as a playground taunt. The closing "And in the Night" is the greatest diversion, a chaotic Afro-German hybrid that crosscuts Dear's natural rigid bounce with a muffled disco rhythm section and shards of horns. The chances he takes pay off almost without exception, but the album doesn't have the easy-fit cohesion of Leave Luck to Heaven, and the dispassionate vocals that surface here and there won't be for everyone. (During "I Know Howser"'s verses, he sounds like he'd rather be folding laundry or sorting recyclables.) Some will see this as the Amnesiac to Leave Luck to Heaven's Kid A. There really isn't anything wrong with that.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman