"In a fantasy world--which probably won't happen--I'd like to take minimal techno and make pop out of it, the same way Depeche Mode and New Order did 15 to 20 years ago," says Matthew Dear, the most gleaming in a long line of Detroit techno stars.

Although he's skeptical about his lean, glitchy techno wowing the masses (and oh how those masses need his style of wowing), Dear may accomplish that with "Dog Days," the infectious first single off his instant-classic debut album, Leave Luck to Heaven (Spectral/Ghostly International). "Dog Days" prompted Richie Hawtin to lose his marbles upon his first listen. The legendary deejay reportedly played the track three times in three hours at a loft party before the single was officially released. (Dear issued a fantastic experimental-techno CD on Hawtin's Plus 8 imprint under the False moniker.)

In the realms of techno, house, and their quirky, stripped-down progeny, microhouse, it's essentially wheel-reinventing time. Most producers are merely embellishing said wheel with shinier rims, better-gripping treads, or fancier spokes. Still, this 24-year-old phenom gives these underground styles a legit chance for the charts. Radiohead's members are surely already bumpin' Heaven in their iPods.

But it's not just hip insiders who are feeling Dear's music: Last year, the increasingly mainstream URB magazine placed Dear in its annual "Next 100" feature on promising artists, and even Rolling Stone doled out a four-star blurb for Heaven. Further, the album, far from appealing only to deejays, is selling well to the general music fan. (While Ghostly could not provide sales figures, Heaven consistently sells out in shops like Seattle's Easy Street, and Neptune Records in the Detroit suburb Royal Oak.)

Dear's disorienting yet danceable aesthetic (he calls it "fun functionality") has, uh, endeared him to Germany's pace-setting tech-house imprint, Perlon. Recording as Jabberjaw for that company, Dear dropped the zigzaggin', booty-bumpin' glitch-house 12-inch Girlfriend, and landed a track on the awesome Superlongevity 3 compilation. Dear cites producers on Perlon--including Akufen, Ricardo Villalobos, and Pantytec--as being hugely inspirational to him.

"Like them, I like to push the edge sonically," Dear says. "But at the same time, I add vocals and pop structure on top of it."

That's what really distinguishes Heaven in the oft-faceless techno world: Dear's vocals. He sounds like he's paying mumble-mouthed homage to Smog's Bill Callahan. It takes balls for a techno producer to sing on his own tracks; hardly anyone does this. "Friends say, 'Why didn't you get other people to [sing]?' I say, 'I don't know,'" he recalls, laughing. "I think it's a one-man show. This is my art."

Dear's artfulness also shows in Heaven's sequencing. "I've always been a fan of concept albums--albums that flow like a story and morph--like Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique or a Steve Reich or Brian Eno album. It's cool to have those changing waves of pace and structure. I take in hints from all these other composers and producers; what I put out is my own interpretation of what I hear. I wouldn't be making this kind of music if I hadn't heard Studio 1 records (Mike Ink's Profan stuff) or early Kompakt records. When you have so many influences coming in, whatever comes out is yours. It's like putting everything through a food processor; you get this whole new mix of everything." DAVE SEGAL

Benefit show for Decibel Festival, with Lusine (Live PA), Jeff Samuel (DJ Set), Jacob London (DJ Set). Thurs March 4 at Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 9 pm-2 am, 21+, $10 adv. See www.dbfestival.com for more info.


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