‘Black City’  (Ghostly International)  2010

Matthew Dear's chalkly cover.
Matthew Dear’s chalk-esque whispery cover.

CD/ Vinyl/ Download (with extra bonus track)

Track List –

1. Honey  (3:47)
2. I Can’t Feel  (4:18)
3. Little People (Black City)  (9:20)
4. Slowdance  (4:22)
5. Soil To Seed  (2:28)
6. You Put A Smell On Me  (5:04)
7. Shortwave (5:12)
8. Monkey  (3:39)
9. More Surgery (5:30)
10. Gem  (4:07)

Bonus track – Innh Dahh  (3:52)

Written and produced by Matthew Dear.

Armed with an erudite respect to the musical exploration of artists such as Bowie and Eno, imbued with passing glimpses of 80s EBM (Electronic Body Music) and the odd nod in the direction of Talking Heads, Matthew Dear rolls out a morose but ethereal kissed collection of highly sophisticated dance music songs.

Well I say dance, you’d never actually cast any moves in company, instead rather then hit the dance floor you may find yourself sitting back in contemplation.

‘Black City’ is Dear’s fourth album under his own moniker; since the 90s he has assumed multiple pseudonyms, and taken on many different musical styles, from hardcore Detroit techno to a whole suite of subtle variants.
Three-years of grinding away and donning many influences, Dear has at last found his calling, picking apart the work of a certain electronic music guru, Brian Eno, and his most synonymous foil, David Bowie.
He especially duplicates the, often stark, lyrical methods used to great effect by the pair, by laying down an often-bewildered descriptive line followed by a usually profound or poignant statement.
For example, Dear’s ‘Slowdance’ features the method well: “It’s a precious head wrapped up and bound for Ghana, I can’t be the one to tell you everything’s wrong”.

Further relative use of these guiding lights music is in evidence, Dear traversing and dipping into the full gamut of their 70s and early 80s albums, including liberal doses of the Eno and David Byrne collaboration ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’.
Of course it’s impossible to mistake the Germanic inspired tones of Bowie; our man Dear impersonating a morbidly low octave version of the classic thin white dukes more serious vocals throughout.

The Blackness album is fashioned with dark doleful haunting imagery, and blackboard scrawled lyrics. An accompanying booklet features a disturbing photo of a downgraded monochrome office block, eaten away or consumed, by blotted inky miasma ectoplasm, further emphasizing the underlying foreboding sombre atmosphere.

Inside the actual barren cover, the less mournful inclined music unravels itself indolently, starting with the ghostly Scott Walker-esque ‘Honey’. Taut sparse beats, shifting creeping melodies and some jarring rhythms, all combing to produce an aloof atmospheric soundtrack.
Following in its wake is the more up-tempo highlight ‘I Can’t Feel’, a mix of effortless prowling Talking Heads and a downer version of LCD Soundsystem. The track winds itself along with clockwork like cranking subtle percussion, pulsating beats and stalking hip bass lines, working up an unconventional blend of machine music and blue-eyed soul.

Another particular favourite is the sauntering proto-disco looped grooving ‘Little People’.
Repressed tinges of early Daft Punk and the latest mature dance direction of Caribou inform this mesmerising dazzling oscillation soaked number, that has Dear crooning like a ‘Scary Monsters’ era Bowie.
The nine-minute opsicule changes tact halfway through, as Dear remixes his own tune, throwing in some shaking percussion, woodblock and a repetitive vocal hook.

Slowing down proceedings, ‘Slowdance’ enacts a mogadon induced and laboured incarnation of New Order, producing an almost sullen, yet surprisingly refreshing lovelorn tale.
‘You Put A Smell On Me’ is a return to the more paced and sassy coolness of Grace Jones circa ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’. Dear kind of re-works the themes of Jones achingly hip 1981 hit, albeit with some updated cynicism and dry unemotional vocal delivery. Drilling breaks, caustic synthesised dotted menace and a deadpan bass drum make this a fairly heavy track, the repeated use of black in the lyrics is only broken by the final echoed line: “Little red night gown”.

Dear swaps adopted Berliner chic for a moodier version of Beck on the, almost shambling, shuffler ‘Shortwave’. The tabla laden bank robbery narrated dance track weaves its way around surprising moments from the Beta Band, with faint Jarvis Cocker sounding vocals.
An ode to plastic surgery is adhered to on the dry and wry observed story of ‘More Surgery’, as told from the aging protagonists point of view. ‘Autobahn’ meets ‘Earthling’ at a 80s nightclub, doused in more of that assured aloof coolness.

Playing out the album is the emotive strains of ‘Gem’, a song that doesn’t just pull at those heartstrings but bungee jumps from them.
A Gary Numan automatic phrased way with words thankfully comes across with signs of pulchritude and rousing sentiment. The melody and atmospherics reminded me of the first half of TV On The Radios ‘Family Tree’ track off their last LP, though it’s only a fleeting comparison. This is electronic music crooning at its best.

‘Black City’ is among the slow burners in this year’s crop of best albums – oh yeah it is defiantly one of 2010s top albums.
Those sweeping dejected passages, emotive pained twanges, richly filled congruous melodies and stripped-back unobtrusive beats make for an inspired theme to modern anxiety.
Dear’s album refuses to revert to simplistic overtures of the usual happy-go-lucky life’s a breeze ethos of most dance music, producing instead a electronica and 80s soaked version of ‘OK Computer’.


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