CD (Gatefold Wallet / 12-Page Booklet)
I'm a gross machine… I'm in love with ghosts.
- Matthew Dear, "More Surgery" (Black City, 2010)
Matthew Dear's Black City can't be found on any map. It's a composite, an imaginary metropolis peopled by desperate cases, lovelorn souls, and amoral motives. Like most literary Gothams, Black City is a place to love and hate, as seedy as a nightclub's back room and as addictive as heroin. Matthew Dear, the musician, may live in New York City, but the Matthew Dear of Black City inhabits a sound-world unlike any other: a monument to the shadowy side of urban life that bumps and creaks, shudders and wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. Black City is Matthew Dear's third album on Ghostly International, and it's his darkest and most engrossing work to date.
From the first notes of album opener "Honey", it's clear that the love-obsessed Matthew Dear of 2007's Asa Breed has given way to a more existentially paranoid entity, as creeping tempos dominate, cavernous atmospherics envelop the listener, and strange distortions crackle on the horizon. In Black City, nothing is at it seems: leadoff single "Little People (Black City)" is a nine-and-a-half minute disco odyssey, subverting its gleaming electronic lead with eerily giddy backing vocals and cryptic, ominous lyrics ("a frozen wasted heart / has died", "love me like a clown"); "You Put a Smell on Me" is a sordid sex romp set to hysterically chattering percussion and a serrated synth line that will set your teeth on edge; "More Surgery" at first recalls the barely-there Krautrock of Harmonia in its burbling minimalism, until Dear's chanted chorus of "Alter genetics / to make my body glow / I need more surgery / there's so much more to know" sends the track hurtling into a dystopian future.
And yet, for all of Black City's foreboding moods, it's the album's sweeter moments that illustrate Matthew Dear's growing maturity as a songwriter. "Slowdance" is a futuristic lullaby in which Dear articulates a lover's helplessness ("I can't be the one to tell you everything's wrong") over breathy, Arthur Russell-esque cello swishes; the album-closing "Gem" is an achingly simple, reverb-drenched piano ballad that ends with a long, slow fade. Even in Matthew Dear's Black City, there is hope.