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Listening Party

Matthew Dear: Black City

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Matthew Dear

Black City

Ghostly International

In 2007, Matthew Dear released Asa Breed, an album stunning for its electro-pop synthesis of the kind of hyper-precision found in minimal techno and the kind of sad bastard pop songwriting you might find in an Okkervil River album. While already a club superstar under his Audion techno production handle, the ex-Detroiter was kicked into the indieland (and beyond) spotlight by Asa Breed. (Meanwhile, indieland was turning its short attention span to the minimal techno he’d aced as Audion.) Since Asa Breed, Dear has released more dance-club fodder, as Audion and under his own name, but Black City is the return of Dear the pop songwriter.

Dear the techno producer, though, appears to have even more of a hand in Black City than Asa Breed. Songs are soaked frequently in big minor key synth washes; his strange, deep voice is just as often effected into bizarro haunts or even just goofiness; and, oh my, breaking down the waist-deep percussion on this record would be like unpacking a megabyte of binary code. Precision and depth, but neither one of those things used frivolously.

Dear is known for some of the funkier sounds in minimal house music, but even then, it is still by the genre’s ad hoc definition pretty dark, heady stuff. You won’t find much refined sugar in the M-nus or Spectral labels. And Black City is not only dark, but that same sort of sexually charged, barely lit room dark where people fuck strangers, forget friends, and smell like the right kind of danger. “You Put a Smell On Me” knows it: “Afterward, come home with me/ to my big black house, on the big black sea,” Dear sings in a voice that could freeze brine. “And we’ll dance, dance, dance/ all, night, long.” Or the disc’s “Little People (Black City)” backbone, nine minutes of sublime peak-hours mood shift that feels as if it is consuming you like some unseen animal.

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