This change is welcome. As with many Swamp81 artists, Pearce's musical world has been getting gradually narrower. What was once a striking synthesis of post-dubstep ideas has become an airless formula. On Michael, his usual fidgety club productions are cut with something else entirely. The three interludes and closer "Less" are beatless, melody-led sketches. Elsewhere, tracks open with long reflective passages, or trail off into uncertain drones.
But there are two problems with Pearce's new approach. The first is that none of these beatless tracks are any good: the ideas are flimsy, the textures thin and the melodies forgettable. The second is that they seem to have a detrimental effect on the dancier moments, too. There was a hint of this in Pearce's other longer release, 2014's Up West, whose "beat tape" tag sometimes seemed like an excuse for the music's half-finished feel. With the exception of solid roller "Polyester," Michael consists of equally half-baked ideas.
Some tracks are drum tools begging for further development, like "Quite (Bonus Beats)," a crunchy UK funky loop that skitters into triplet time, and the slow-mo "Cakes." Others are more substantial but seem to fall at the final hurdle. "Lately"'s rubbery melodies and cool breakdown chords build to a satisfying Swamp-style 808 bass pattern. But the low-end slinks off after 30 seconds, and the track's over shortly after. Likewise on "Old Habits": the material is promising, but Pearce squanders the dramatic potential of its rising tom figure, seeming to lose interest just as the thing's taking off.
It's almost as if Pearce is treating the album format not as a challenge but as a crutch. He's found a potential new direction for his music, but is unwilling or unable to thoroughly explore it. Instead, he throws together the bits and bobs he's got and hopes that they will "work as a whole." Michael's failings are encapsulated in "Why Would You?," which starts as a sour synth number before, halfway through, lurching into a sprightly rat-tat-tat beat. Pearce tries to smooth the join by briefly bleeding the chords back in, but he never really finds a way to combine the two parts. When the drums run themselves down a couple of minutes later, we're still waiting for the payoff.