Plumbiferous Media

Black City – Matthew Dear

Aug 26th 2010
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Black City - Matthew DearMatthew Dear
Black City
Score: 53

Detroit electro-pop artist Matthew Dear started releasing music in 1999, followed by his first LP, 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven. Since then, Dear has developed his own distinct style of music, combining techno, house, and pop to create his own sound. Dear’s fourth album, Black City, released last week, is, while not entirely successful, an interesting development of his sound.

When at the top of his game, Matthew Dear uses a wealth of synthetic sounds to create an immersive environment that tries its best to pull the listener through Dear’s mind. That works exceptionally well on tracks like “Honey” (which develops a deep, lethargic flow of sound punctuated by intentional glitches that serve as focal points). Unfortunately, it does not always work that well. “I Can’t Feel”‘s heavily abbreviated notes quickly become far too aggressive, and coupled with the periodic squeaks and squeals, the track quickly becomes irritating.

Additionally, occasional bouts of drawn out, repetitive sections, especially prevalent when the vocals drop out, plague the album. That said, Black City does do well when it comes to diversity. There are a number of styles that Dear clearly favors, but every track on the album is unique, and the result is an album that has a wealth of sounds, but is far from overly diverse or disconnected.

Dear tends to use his voice as an instrument, heavily layering it with synth, allowing it to blend in well with the rest of Black City‘s sound. When this is successful, it helps to deepen the sound, giving Dear’s music an additional layer in the form of his voice. When less successful, it tends to turn the music into a sort of unchanging grind, and when it fails completely – fortunately, not very often – it becomes genuinely annoying. Obviously, the first case is the most desireable – and so it’s unsurprising that the album would benefit if that case showed up more often.

Given the electronic sound of Dear’s music, it’s unsurprising that the lyrics are generally both fairly simple and surreal. In an approach that is entirely in tune the way he uses his voice, Dear uses his words as a direction for his voice, choosing his words to create his desired sound. That’s not to say that Dear’s lyrics are irrelevant except in their sound – simple as they may be, they help to set the tone of Black City, though certainly not as much as does the music.

It’s hard to decide whether Black City has its moments or whether there are just moments where Matthew Dear doesn’t shine. There are good tracks and bad tracks, sometimes good sections and bad sections, but Dear is either on or off. Some of Black City is just not worth listening to, and the rest makes up for it, but there’s not all that much that is just there. Everything, for better or worse, serves a purpose on Black City, and we applaud Dear for that, even if the album averages out to be quite, well, average.

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