Review : Matthew Dear - Black City
PitchforkIf you've followed Matthew Dear over the years, then you know he doesn't like to stay in one place for very long. Even as a primarily electronic artist in the early 2000s, Dear hopped from label to label, switched aliases often, and made everything from steely microhouse to harder Detroit techno. But his biggest departure was 2007's Asa Breed, the record where he stepped out from behind the decks and reached for the mic. Singing on tracks and leaning more heavily on song structure, he built strange hybrid music that had one foot in techno and the other in pop.
Dear's latest album, Black City, follows this path but pulls a pretty drastic shift in tone. Where Asa Breed was bubbly and squeaky and ultimately dancefloor-bound, this record is dark as night. The music brings to mind blown-out warehouses, desolate alleys, and seedy basement nightclubs; it's some real threatening, grimy shit. The production is as inventive and immersive as ever, but what separates this album from the last is that Dear mostly sticks with one theme all the way through. Asa Breed was all over the place at times, but this album has a cohesive thread to follow and smaller vignettes within it.
It's worth noting on a general level that Black City isn't always an easy listen-- there's a lot of detail that can take a couple of spins to get comfortable with. Part of this is structural. Dear doesn't really do clean electro-pop; his approach is more about pushing contrasting sounds together and leaving the edges jagged. The other part is his vocals. Dear is not a classically strong singer and can often sound pretty flat; importantly he knows how to make up for it. He uses technology to stretch his natural range, wrapping choruses around beats in creative ways and sometimes layering multiple vocals together to create depth....full text
GhostlyMatthew Dear’s Black City can’t be found on any map. It’s a composite, an imaginary metropolis peopled by desperate cases, lovelorn souls, and amoral motives. Like most literary Gothams, Black City is a place to love and hate, as seedy as a nightclub’s back room and as seductive as the promise of power. Matthew Dear, the musician, may live in New York City, but the Matthew Dear of Black City inhabits a sound-world unlike any other: a monument to the shadowy side of urban life that bumps and creaks, shudders and wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. Black City is Matthew Dear’s third album on Ghostly International, and it’s his darkest and most engrossing work to date.
From the first notes of album opener “Honey”, it’s clear that the love-obsessed Matthew Dear of 2007’s Asa Breed has given way to a more existentially paranoid entity, as creeping tempos dominate, cavernous atmospherics envelop the listener, and strange distortions crackle on the horizon. In Black City, nothing is at it seems: leadoff single “Little People (Black City)” is a nine-and-a-half minute disco odyssey, subverting its gleaming electronic lead with eerily giddy backing vocals and cryptic, ominous lyrics (“a frozen wasted heart / has died”, “love me like a clown”); “You Put a Smell on Me” is a sordid sex romp set to hysterically chattering percussion and a serrated synth line that will set your teeth on edge; “More Surgery” at first recalls the barely-there Krautrock of Harmonia in its burbling minimalism, until Dear’s chanted chorus of “Alter genetics / to make my body glow / I need more surgery / there’s so much more to know” sends the track hurtling into a dystopian future....full text
BbcBlack City is one of the albums of the year – and the year is 1981. You could easily imagine it being played alongside Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, early 23 Skidoo, Japan’s Art of Parties single, extended 12-inch dance versions of tracks from Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and especially the music from David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts project. It is a collection of cerebral funk and brainiac disco from the Michigan DJ, producer, remixer (for, among others, The xx and Hot Chip), label owner and recording artist under several aliases.
You can sort of tell that Matthew Dear is a dilettante dabbling in different areas – there is a playfulness to his deep, lugubriously droning voice that undercuts everything here with a sense of wry detachment. There are playful sounds, too, of the type that you might expect from a Zappa or an Eno – musicians who sometimes gave the impression they found pop a little too easy. You get a similar feeling of effortlessness from Dear on Black City, the follow-up to the highly acclaimed 2007 album Asa Breed; it’s the feeling of someone operating in a comfort zone.
He’s good at what he does – maybe too good. He’s studied Byrne and Eno – and the late-70s output of Bowie-Eno – so closely, assimilated their moves so completely, that all he needs to do is repeat them. So once you’ve heard a couple of these forays into electronic funk and tribal techno, you’ve heard them all. There are variations, but they’re on a theme. Slowdance is like hearing New Order submerged in treacle. You Put a Smell on Me moves the party on to the late-80s when there was a brief vogue for tough, insistent, industrial dance music called New Beat (Dear is a Nitzer Ebb fan)....full text
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