Xenophobe, Dawson's first album, is a hodgepodge of tunes dating back to when he lived in San Francisco and was conjuring heady jams on an MPC. It also dips into the mechanized techno he was making last year. Listening through the album is like listening to an alternate history of Bookworms, his discography retold through unheard music.
Xenophobe is split over two records, which turns out to be quite a divide. The first half is sunny, with two stunners that nicely outline what makes Dawson's style so engaging. The twitchy "You Say So" settles into an easy slow cook, before a vocal and piano gently take it on a detour. "STE-027," the lengthy centrepiece that takes up all of side B, turns out to be Xenophobe's best track. On the surface it's typical Bookworms, an airy rush of techno, but with a creeping energy that takes advantage of all 18-plus minutes. Instead of riding the rhythm, Dawson staggers his chords so that they suddenly stutter, or run into the next bar. It's a trick that keeps your ear tracked firmly to the lead, rather than keeping it locked on the groove.
On the other 12-inch, Dawson moves on to gritty particulate matter and viscous, sloshing sounds. While these tracks are less catchy, there's no less to grab hold of. "In Character" moves like a slow-motion sandstorm, while "Illusion Flip" coasts on a snappy but crestfallen bassline, like something from Midtown 120 Blues given a steely techno makeover. Only "Xenophobe," seven minutes of engine-room ambience, fails to make an impression, but it's a welcome way to wind the album down after six lengthy workouts.
Xenophobe connects the dots between recent records like Touchless Automatic and Dawson's brighter early work. Though the aesthetics have changed over time, the approach hasn't, and Dawson's most engaging traits are still here. His tracks catch the ear because they're unlike so much other gridded dance music, loaded with human touches. Bookworms' tunes are intimately linked to playing live—performances where he either improvises or creates new material almost every time. A thrilling excursion like "STE-027" doesn't come from careful planning—you get it in the heat of the moment. That spontaneity keeps Dawson's music fresh, whether it's from last year or eight years ago. Xenophobe is his freshest collection yet, a survey of one of house music's most delightful oddballs.