Keen eared readers may remember the spellbinding remix of The xx’s ‘VCR’ for which Matthew Dear was responsible. A strutting disco reworking of an already splendid song caught my attention and, despite the fact it’s proved impossible to track down a high quality copy of it, has remained a firm favourite. But what of the remixer’s latest solo outing? Does that soulful approach extend to his own, previously more dance focused, work this time out? Well, there’s a dark, pulsing propulsion to much of this material which renders it an immersive and largely satisfying listen and there are moments not a million miles away from the feel of that superlative remix.
The hugely experimental yet playful edge that has always made Matthew Dear’s work worth a listen in the past remains, but this time it appears to sit within more conventional song structures. At times, ‘Black City’ sounds as if David Bowie had made the ‘Young Americans’ album around the time he actually made ‘Earthling’. That languid, soulful swagger of one of the Dame’s finest records is chopped up with all kinds of bleepery. Dear shares Bowie’s willingness to deploy longer tracks early on, and ‘Little People (Black City)’ is a mammoth nine-minutes-plus electropop tour de force, with the cavernous vocal sounding not unlike a cross between James Murphy and DB during his, ahem, golden years. Achieving the rare feat of being a long song that doesn’t actually feel like a long song, it’s all the more charming for the moment, somewhere in its seventh minute, where the whole thing falls apart and reappears with an angelic, almost hypnotic, chanting phase just to ensure you don’t get too settled just yet.
‘Slowdance’ has a repeated refrain which simultaneously sounds like a drunk muttering into his can, but somehow put through a vocoder, and yet also bloody marvellous. The first few plays left me a little unsure as to whether this particular sound was jarring or genius, but I think I’ve ended up coming down on the latter side of that particular debate. The complexities of love play out lyrically across another beautifully crafted backdrop, entirely in keeping with the slightly paranoid and claustrophobic intensity of ‘Black City’ as a whole. The phrase ‘headphone music’ does get bandied about rather a lot these days, but it can applied to this particular album with little fear of contradiction.
Despite the awful title, ‘You Put A Smell On Me’, is a moody piece of dirty electro funk with an infectious quality which is hard to explain, simply creeping up on you over repeated listens. ‘Monkey’ is another of the more curious creations, a little bit like Kraftwerk after they got pissed and discovered a Bee Gees songbook*. You’ll like it, I’m sure. And don’t forget the stunning closer, ‘Gem’, which is as stripped back as you’ll have heard Matthew Dear sounding to date, with sparse echoes of ‘The Sun Rising’ and ‘Pacific State’ in the fluttery soundscape and a vocal which serves to release the tension built up over the previous nine songs. A very fine way to close out an album.
This isn’t a stone cold classic and I know I can be prone to excessive hyperbole on occasion, so let’s be realistic. There are a couple of tracks which are good but unremarkable, a decent enough feat in itself when it comes to the vast majority of new releases, but the highs are very high and whatever you thought of Matthew Dear before this record is largely irrelevant. This is a grand leap from where we have been previously and it is a cerebral, slinky little number which might just surprise you.
‘Black City’ is released on August 16th on Ghostly International.
*I’m not 100% sure that this ever actually happened.