Matthew Dear is not cool. It’s not that he’s so pointedly uncool he becomes cool either. He yearns for companionship while also projecting an image of suaveness that he demands you notice. Less James Dean and more Johnny Bravo, deciphering the root of Dear’s inscrutable appeal is part of the fun of listening to him. Albums centered around calculated personas like his can be exhausting, but Dear’s figured out how to turn his artifice into something inexplicably relatable.

At least, it seemed he had. When Black City dropped in 2010, it was like he had stopped anything from holding him back and released what’s still one of the finest albums this decade, the kind of thing you put on as you’re cruising down a deserted highway, ready to cut loose but keeping your fist - and jaw - clenched. Follow-up Beams lacked Black City’s tension and seductive soundscape, but it felt like a worthwhile bridge between its predecessor’s vibe of a melancholy club rat trying to rid himself of numbness and whatever he had cooked up next.

Six years later, we have Bunny. Dear’s sound isn’t noticeably dated, nor have other artists co-opted it so much that it’s become redundant for him to even try. It’s like Dear never left, but he could’ve given us a re-entrance that was more notable than this. There are reflections on domestic life on tracks like ‘Kiss Me Forever’ and ‘Before I Go,’ but what he has to say about having a family is essentially that he has one. The irresistible playfulness of ‘You Put A Smell On Me’ and ‘Monkey’ is hard to find.

Dear’s detachment, both in words and in delivery, was previously an asset. You wanted to prod inside his brain and find out what sort of gears are turning or have been stalled for the sake of being the guy perpetually leaned against the wall with a withering glare. A watershed moment came at the end of Black City. As it closed with ‘Gem,’ Dear threw away his “attitude” for the sake of a proper, gut-punch of a goodbye. (“One of your great regrets will be staying in place/And I can't hold you back from your dreams”). It’s the kind of last-second character development that would read as nonsensical in a typical fiction narrative but brings everything together on record.

The Matthew Dear of Bunny is more or less the Matthew Dear of before, but he’s nowhere near as interesting. If his forte was making a personality out of not having a personality (or cobbling a bunch into one amalgamation), he seems to have detached himself from his already detached self. Like an overly-compressed JPEG, you can still tell what Dear is trying to show you, but it’s too muddled to warrant your involvement.

Despite his years of experience as a DJ, Dear’s producer instincts let him down on much of Bunny. Everything sounds fine, but that’s also the problem. It sounds fine and nothing more. Opener ‘Bunny’s Dream’ is two lines (“You and I, in this world of you.”) surrounded by shimmering guitar and stabs of synth and never does it feel like it’s taking any kind of a chance. No one song can convey the dreaming experience universally, but if this is meant to set the pace for the rest of the album, it appears Dear has come down with a case of somnambulism.

That the album isn’t completely forgettable can be largely credited to Dear the singer. Unfortunately, that’s also the main reason why it’s his weakest effort to date. His range of voices, from his familiar craggy baritone to a hesitant pitch-shifted falsetto (on ‘Echo’) are made to do all the heavy lifting because Dear the producer is too content with letting tracks spin their wheels and sputter to a halt. ‘What You Don’t Know’ and ‘Moving Man’ are running out the clock before Dear momentarily snaps into focus and presses “STOP”. ‘Calling’ is one of the few tracks where he actually sounds absorbed in his performance. But to reach those passionate synths and eventually powerhouse vocals, you have to suffer through an intro that sounds like he’s attempting karaoke in a piano lounge. He has to know how bad it sounds, but being self-aware doesn’t excuse it.

It might be easier to take in if it wasn’t so bloated and better paced. 13 full-length tracks (and one interlude) in an hour is completely acceptable, provided they all have a reason for existing. Bunny is full of songs but not ideas. Did we need the stiff instrumental ‘Duke of Dens’ immediately after ‘Bunny’s Interlude’? Why couldn’t Dear have just chosen one Tegan & Sara-featuring track instead of two? (My vote is for ‘Bad Ones,’ which sounds like ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl’ smashed into ‘Yeah, Oh Yeah!’ It’s not anywhere as great as either of those songs but it goes down easier than the heartfelt but tepid ‘Horses’.)

I suppose the upside to more tracks is more opportunities to expose himself, but Dear saying more rarely amounts to much. (“There’s something happening. I can feel it. Have you heard? You better believe it.”) When it hits, it’s not what he says, but how he says it, even if they’re not fully discernable as words. On ‘Kiss Me Forever,’ momentary wails escape him as he discusses demons, and it’s like the real Matthew Dear has finally stood up, a wannabe contemporary Casanova that lets his facade drop when he knows he can be vulnerable.

The closest Dear comes to reviving his past inspiration is on ‘Can You Rush Them,' starting off like an incantation and becoming a formidable piece of forceful darkwave with some of his sharpest lyrics (“I was a bad man until I found God, asleep. He didn’t wake up, but no one ever does, for me.”). But for as well as it recreates Black City’s menace, it doesn’t go far enough to make a full impact. To feel like Dear can’t even imitate himself at full capacity is dispiriting. “I better get out of my way if I want to feel better today,” Dear fervently sings in the chorus to ‘Electricity.’ After Bunny, I hope he can figure out what path he wants to be on.