If you've followed Matthew Dear over the years, then you know he doesn't like to stay in one place for very long. Even as a primarily electronic artist in the early 2000s, Dear hopped from label to label, switched aliases often, and made everything from steely microhouse to harder Detroit techno. But his biggest departure was 2007's Asa Breed, the record where he stepped out from behind the decks and reached for the mic. Singing on tracks and leaning more heavily on song structure, he built strange hybrid music that had one foot in techno and the other in pop.
Descriptions of Matthew Dear as a DJ or a dance music producer only partially prepare for the sheer weirdness of Black City. As might be expected, Dear is clearly something of a nocturnalist, fascinated by darkness. But Black City enters a stranger, more disorientating world than 2007's Asa Breed, where Dear constructed a gauzy, romantic modern disco sound. Black City is a sleek but murky creation that owes a notable debt to the more questing and imaginative music of the early '80s. Dear's tempos here are mostly slow, never rising above moderate, and the result is an anxious but exhilarating journey through the night.
A young woman, her milk chocolate skin adorned in exotic, silky fabrics, bellydances against a clear blue sky. Too blue, really. As if the color was oversaturated in a video lab. And of course it is; her green-screened levitation is about as convincing as the Blue’s Clues. For some reason, though, that doesn’t seem to matter. Something about that infectious smile, held by a bold pair of cheekbones like the chain that links her nose to her ear, compels us to stop caring, and follow her, as she leaps across rooftops, flies over rice patties and visits the Seven Wonders of the World. Besides, why worry about realism when it’s all over in three minutes anyway?
It’s difficult to know what to make of Matthew Dear’s career path at times. His first full length record, 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven, was a fantastic album. It fused influences from pop and house music into a minimal techno template inspired by Dear’s Detroit surroundings. It marked him out as a very promising, exciting electronic musician.
For most of the last decade, Matthew Dear eluded easy categorization by constantly morphing between his various alter egos. He spent time working as False, a relatively straightforward representation focused on the producer’s allegiance to Detroit techno, followed by the whimsical Jabberjaw and the obtuse Audion. But since 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven, his best efforts have appeared under his own name. Shifting from the pedantic Audion moniker used on last year’s It’s Full of Blinding Light EP, Dear returns to the wide-open emotional resonance that transformed 2007’s Asa Breed into one of the truly iconographic releases in any of the various techno subgenres.