When Matthew Dear sticks to what he knows, even a decade-plus into his career, the results can still inspire. Dear forever has techno bona fides from the fantastic Jabberjaw release on Perlon, and he comfortably snuck back into that alias last year. The recent crop of Audion releases is also solid: I think Dear’s “superstar” status may have caused some folks to overlook last year’s “It’s Full of Blinding Light.” Nothing really new about the track, but its near-U.K. funky beat and hypnotic vocal sample can do cartwheels around some of the Workshop stuff.
It’s the releases under Dear’s own name that are problematic. Though he hit a home run with 2003’s “Dog Days,” Matthew Dear as Matthew Dear hasn’t had a great track record. On both Backstroke and Asa Breed, it too often seemed like Dear was trying to establish some kind of pop-techno Bowie persona that he isn’t really qualified to put forward. Scattered tracks like “Dog Days” and “Tide” succeed, but they’re overwhelmed by half-formed songs that fail to strike a balance between verse-chorus-verse and the techno pocket. The blank, threadbare lyrics don’t help. There’s a thin line between meaningfully abstract and simply lazy.
Black City keeps up the trend. It’s another misfire with a handful of great moments that point to something better. The first minute of “Honey” starts things off nicely, a pleasant Beta Band-like shuffle touched up with some futurism, but then, Dear sings. At his worst, Dear’s vocals are an almost laughable combination of solemn and cool. Step back, people: emotionally detached man at work here. It makes you want to call the real freaks into the room.
It’s a shame, because the parts that work are truly unique in his catalog. His voice does have a way of grabbing onto a great hook, and he finds one in the last minute of “Monkey.” Escalating synths and stabbing chords hit over a relaxed beat while Dear lightly sings ”I can be your lover if the loving shoe fits.” “I Can’t Feel” has a slick funk bounce that matches nicely with Dear’s staccato falsetto, but unfortunately, he switches up the singing and returns to his super-low solemn-cool thing. Also, at least some parts of the nine-plus minute “Little People (Black City)” were bound to hit.
It’s hard not to be hard on the Dear solo albums. The ample alias evidence shows that the man has talent in spades and can still make uncomplicatedly great tracks. Hopefully he’ll eventually get this Matthew Dear thing right.
By Brad LaBonte