[album review] matthew dear: black city

September 10, 2010

Album cover for Black City by Matthew Dear

Matthew DearBlack City (Ghostly International, 2010)
11 tracks/eMusic credits [buy on eMusic] [buy on Amazon.co.uk]

Matthew Dear‘s album career started in 2003 with Leave Luck To Heaven, a ground-breaking fusion of minimal techno and electronic headphone pop. It stills sounds fresh today, though it’s Dear’s talents as producer of bleeps and beats rather than songsmith that keeps it that way (witness also his work as Audion, the epic Mouth To Mouth in particular). This bias has remained in his output since.

It’s a welcome surprise, therefore, that Black City – which sees Dear adopt a richer, deeper and darker sonic palette than previous works – balances sound and song more finely, and much more successfully.

The album’s highlights centre on those moments when the world constructed by Dear’s still immaculate instrumentation is populated with characters and stories borne of his emerging vocal confidence: downtempo prelude Honey acts as a four-minute tracking shot (with voiceover) through the City’s cinematic noir netherworld; near-title track and album centrepiece Little People (Black City) conjures a Blade Runner-esque disco scene by channelling Yellow Magic Orchestra and Talking Heads simultaneously; the degenerate You Put A Smell On Me plays potent homage to The Normal’s Warm Leatherette (itself J.G. Ballard-inspired); More Surgery‘s Krautish synth lines appear to mimic the pulse and hiss of life support equipment as the narrator seeks the next procedure on his journey towards becoming man-machine.

Only at the close of the album (bonus track notwithstanding) do we finally break free from the dystopian malaise Black City so coherently and completely depicts. Gem is, well, a gem of a song (in the vein of TV On The Radio’s Family Tree), though perversely I felt just a little cheated that the album ended on such a note of optimism.

Nonetheless the comforting sense of discomfort Black City sustains across most of its 50 or so minutes – even during slightly weaker songs like Soil To Seed or Shortwave – invites repeat visits to discover areas unmapped during first listen. Well worth the trip.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.

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