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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