I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but as good a place as any to begin with this chap is the spellbinding remix of The xx’s ‘VCR’ for which Matthew Dear is responsible. A strutting disco reworking of an already splendid song caught my attention and there’s a dark, pulsing propulsion to much of his latest solo material which renders it an immersive and largely satisfying listen. There are moments here not a million miles away from the feel of that superlative remix and some far stranger stuff with serves to surpass it.
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 sounds like a drunk muttering into the dregs of his last can, but somehow put through a vocoder. Obviously, this is genius and a delight to behold. 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 remains elusive yet irresistible, 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.
Although the remarkable quality occasionally dips, 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.
*I’m not 100% sure that this ever actually happened.