Matthew Dear - Black City
Thu 30th Sep, 2010 Music Reviews 472 viewsin
Matthew Dear can’t sing. Still, that didn’t stop his last album, 2007’s Asa Breed, from becoming one of the most lauded electronic pop albums of that year…and that had his deadpan drone stamped all over it. But pop music has always had a history of musicians whose singing capabilities have been questionable; Bowie, Byrne, Gahan – all artists that Dear cites as influences. Though what Dear also shares with them is that common trait of an individually distinct and original voice being able to overcome a lack of tonal ability.
Asa Breed wasn’t Dear’s first foray into singing though. Even as far back as his 2003 debut, Leave Luck To Heaven, he was already testing out the vocal waters, like on his standout techno single Dog Days. However whereas his debut and the subsequent album Backstroke was of the more bouncy, minimal techno variety, Asa Breed marked the beginning of music flying under the Matthew Dear banner transitioning into full blown synth-pop, with Dear becoming a bona fide crooner.
That’s not to say that Dear doesn’t still indulge his polymathic tendencies though, for he still produces a variety of techno under a list of different aliases like False, Jabberjaw and Audion to much acclaim. The guy’s no slouch at DJing either, just as his entry into Get Physical’s Body Language series proved.
Now up to his fourth LP, Black City picks up where Asa Breed’s mix of oddball tech, synth and avant-pop left off, and while it may not be as fruity as its predecessor, it’s not quite so much the dark metropolis the title suggests. Sure, there’s a shady atmosphere that pervades many of the tracks, such as slinky album opener Honey or the fatigued More Surgery, however there’s still a lot of downright, dirty fun(k) to be had too. I Can’t Feel rides a stuttering bass loop through a quirky tunnel of crooning, Little People (Black City) has a nine-minute boogie on a swirling dancefloor and You Put A Smell On Me thumps with an unavoidably infectious robotic sleaze.
There’s also a touch of sentimentality given to this mythical urban landscape too, with Gem being a dreamy, piano-led piece of regret that closes things out, but not before Slowdance which, with its white light synths that build and wash over a typical Dear vocal sample, is the unashamed love ballad of Dear’s black city. It manages to be groovy, disorienting, uplifting and heartbreaking all at the same time and, if you’re a sucker for love ballads, is easily the standout track on the album.
Just like Asa Breed was in 2007, Black City is one of the weirdest, funkiest and impeccably produced synth-pop albums of the year. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with Matthew Dear then, well, get acquainted. He may just become your new favourite singer who can’t sing.
Black City is out now on Ghostly International through Inertia.