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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Matthew Dear, Black City June 4, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

First up, hat tip to Prometheus Records who posted the first comment on this thread back in December and introduced me to Matthew Dear amongst a number of other people working in electronica. It’s a good list s/he posted and worth exploring if you have any affinity with that genre.

Anyway, on the back of this here’s an album which I got subsequently, listened to once – thought, well that’s not bad, and then didn’t play again for months. My mistake. Even before one gets to the music Dear appears to be an interesting character, all the way from Texas, who only came to prominence in the 2000s with tracks which tellingly straddled both dance and indie. He’s been associated with the Spectral Sound label but in more recent years released material on Plus 8. He also has released much harder techno under the Audion moniker. And why not?

Now first impressions might seem to indicate that in this incarnation he is a man deeply in thrall to the vocal style of one D. Bowie, and it’s absolutely true, this is a curious blend, house (or is it micro-house) influences, 80s synth pop – enter Bowie, unsurprisingly a hint of Gary Numan, perhaps a sprinkling of Tom Vek-like stuff [Mr. Vek has been missing in action for some years now but I see he’s an album out in three days or so] and references to post-punk funk and so on. It’s funny, I also hear Zoot Woman in here [though perhaps less explicitly so than on some of the most recent Toro Y Moi album] But through solid beats and a melodic sensibility he manages to rise above his influences – however heavily they may be worn. What I find interesting about it is that the discreet elements are generally not novel, though his penchant for wordless vocalisations is striking, and yet when they are placed together – composed, if you will 😉 – the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the individual parts.

What he does particularly well is to slightly reconfigure song structures in a fairly subtle way – this isn’t Atari Teenage Riot. “Honey” which starts the album is typical. A downbeat melody that sits above a subtle yet insistent percussion which breaks out into a Talking Heads like chorus. Dear double or triple tracks his vocals on “I Can’t Feel” with bass and treble set against each other before his more usual vocal style comes into view. Then close to the end he starts speaking/rapping. And it isn’t in any way out of place.

But these are allusive (and elusive) tracks. “Little People (Black City)” is a better place to start. A song with a genuinely Bowie like vocal – though some may hear an Underworld influence there too – that twists through what appear to be effectively three distinct sections. And while one criticism might be that although melodic the album doesn’t have a surfeit of immediately memorable tracks, the keyboards which underpin this are, as are his vocals and the treated samples that permeate it. Indeed those samples and keyboards give a genuinely industrial feel to this in the literal sense of the word at various points through the track, a quality that is oddly strengthened by his [?] falsetto vocals that the track fades out on. On “Slowdance” his vocals approach homage as regards Bowie inflections and on tracks like that and “Monkey” there are sweeps of keyboards freighted in direct from New Order.

But none of this is to suggest that this is merely echoes of previous works. Indeed there’s a danger that one starts to hear references where there may be none – listen to the intro to the excellent “More Surgery” and there’s just something about the sequence… Mind you, there’s a different sort of something about the lyrics.

Dear has his own style and sound and to my ears this is one of the best albums – a form that may well be shuddering to its demise sooner rather than later – that I’ve heard in a long time in terms of coherence of approach and concept. That the music also works on many different levels is simply an additional strength. Can’t ask for more than that.

Little People (Black City)

More Surgery



I Can’t Feel



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