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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