Forget the big room, Alpha is main-stage techno, 13 outsized and laser-precise tracks produced with the charisma only an artist like Dear could muster. Such a sound is, of course, a double-edged sword, but it's at least one Audion wields well. His music pushes big, blunt thrills that are often more intelligent than they might first let on. Old dance floor heaters like "Against All Odds" loom over Alpha more than a massive slow-burner like "Mouth To Mouth"—the immediacy couples with sly sound design and rhythmic mindgames for a slew of tracks that prod at your subconscious even as they serve baser instincts.
Highlights "Gut Man Commeth," "Napkin", "Timewarp" and "Zunk Synth" exemplify how Dear pulls that off. Layered and manicured into streamlined blasts of forward movement, their every detail serves a distinct and crucial purpose, interlocking and detaching as the flow dictates. There are few surprises in each track, so the crisp production tricks and wonky sound effects are all treats to be savored. You could set your watch to a sparse sci-fi roller like "Traanc," and yet the way Dear teases the arp filters and plays with the mix keeps its tension thick.
Despite the restraint here, Scuba's Claustrophobia comes to mind, at least in terms of the top-tier production value and breadth of vision. Alpha handles immersion and narrative differently, though—that is, it keeps the drama understated, leaves out erroneous interludes and allows each track to exist in its own immaculate bubble. That means less emphasis on peaks and valleys and more on reliable grooves. Even "Bob The Builder," Alpha's concession for a late-album break, could weasel its queasy techno/hip-hop hybrid into a DJ set. In fact, it's better to think of that one as a standalone tool and not a pitstop in the ongoing tracklist (the noisy "Celestial Anitbody" does that better). It succeeds in changing the album's pace, but does so all too briefly, teasing at a typical album arc without fully giving into it. As far as home-listening goes, Alpha is too inflexible to give a dynamic front-to-back experience.
But that's not surprising: Alpha was made with DJs in mind. And on that level, the music has plenty to offer. Warm-up track "There Was A Button" carries whispers of rave energy beneath its stoic Detroit techno sheen; later, "Destroyer" amplifies them to peak-time levels of psychedelic sound. A playful bouncer like "Sucker" is surely too corny for some with its subdued trance chords, but the way "Suppa" adds dub techno accents to that simplicity is appealing. "Sicko," however, does reptilian hedonism best—Dear's sharp drum syncopations and feisty one-note synthline subvert expectations of what can be done to broad, full-capacity dance floors. Indeed, the main stages need canny music as much as the underground spaces do, if not more so; Alpha's got some bangers for both.