There's really nothing like a good musical collision. Recently, I created a "My Dear Disco station" on last.fm, the online service that streams music related to the artist of your choosing. After a brief moment of contemplation, my cell phone began streaming Detroit techno eccentric Matthew Dear, immediately followed by a rousing selection from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
Could My Dear Disco be the much-sought missing link between Great Highland bagpipes and avant-garde dance music? Maybe so. After all, Matthew Dear and the members of My Dear Disco are Ann Arbor, Mich., university grads. What's more, MDD began its life as a laptop computer and uilleann pipes duo. (OK, so uilleann pipes are Irish and Highland pipes are Scottish can we please try to get past that?)
"Actually, the name My Dear Disco is derived from Matthew Dear, and I was really influenced by his music," says MDD guitarist Bob Lester, who makes no mention of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. "Other big references for us were early Michael Jackson, Daft Punk, Justice and the Brazilian Girls."
As befits a bunch of music majors, MDD's sound is both accomplished and all over the map. What's less expected is the degree of soulfulness the seven musicians achieve on tracks like "All I Do" and, especially, "White Lies," which is easily among the best dance-pop songs in recent memory.
"I kind of invited myself into the band," Lester recalls, "because I heard them rehearsing one day at school and I thought: What the hell is that sound?"
By that time, the duo had expanded into a full-fledged instrumental group and was recording under the name Toolbox. Lester brought in vocalist/lyricist Michelle Chamuel, whom he'd met in an electronic music class, a couple months later.
The first track the full lineup recorded was "White Lies," which opens its Dancethink LP debut. Seven-and-a-half minutes of crunchy guitars, infectious rhythms, atmospheric keyboards and, yes, auto-tuned vocals, combined with an achingly beautiful chorus, it's everything that synth-pop and house music promise but too rarely deliver.
"Michelle has this crazy ability to construct what, to me, are just profoundly interesting melodies," says Lester. "They're unpredictable but familiar kind of at once and just very expressive."
Recognizing they had something powerful on their hands, the musicians enlisted engineer Mark Saunders of Cure, Tricky and Shiny Toy Guns fame to finish the mix.
"We had been listening a lot to this Shiny Toy Guns record, and the sonic space it occupies is really large," says Lester. "On the chorus of 'White Lies,' we were trying to achieve that, to have it be like a horizontal and vertical experience when you listen to it. We wanted it to open up as much as possible."
Having graduated from college to full-time musicianhood last April, the band members are currently touring in a short bus converted to run on waste-vegetable oil. For the record (and in contrast to the photo above), they won't be wearing bizarre costumes when they hit the stage.
"We try to be really conscious of graphic design, and lately we've been moving into stereo buttons," says Lester of the rewind, pause and eject icons gracing their album cover and photo shoots.
"I'm the play button."