Matthew Dear has been, from the beginning, Ghostly International's most ambitious artist, the Ann Arbor-originated label's franchise player.
Since 1999's "Hands up for Detroit" debut single, he's remained restless and hungry, pushing the production envelope into techno, house, electro-pop, art-rock and singer-songwriter territories. Dear has turned out music under his own name and the noms-de-plume Audion, False and Jabberjaw. He DJs around the world, in glamorous clubs and at muddy festivals, under whatever moniker he chooses. The Dear discography, including remixes and licensed tracks, approaches a whopping 200 items.
Black City is Dear's third full-length under his own name. Its closest comparable is Asa Breed (2007), a sophisticated song cycle that revealed a dark but delicate nature: bloody murder balladry bumped up against confessional poetry about love lost and self-doubt.
On the new LP, the first thing that stands out is the tempo and timbre of the material. Gone are the bright, bouncy, minimal jams of the early '00s; say hello to such mid-tempo hypno-cruisers as "Little People (Black City)," a nine-minute rave-up that recalls, if it does anything, the early '80s' punk-disco rhythms of Talking Heads. "I Can't Feel" also sounds like it has roots in that era. Dear even sounds a bit like David Byrne, but with more vocal baritone.
"You Put a Smell on Me" is the LP's cheekiest song, with Dear moaning obsessively over a dancer in a "little red nightgown." On "More Surgery" he shifts continents for inspiration and finds his cosmic groove in krautrock; and on "Gem," he recombines all of the above and updates the pop ambient beauty of mid- and late-1970s Eno (Another Green World, Before and After Science) for a slow-mo outro packed with drama and melancholy.
Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].