Matthew Dear, not for nothing, is a pretty handsome guy. His newest album... isn't. Sexy, bizarre, intense, yes, but if you're looking for an artist to just hand you an album of easy listening dance music with a complacent countenance, you should look elsewhere. Black City is an album that plays so far against type, it may reshape your perspective on how modern dance music should sound.
What makes Black City so irresistible is how Matthew Dear manages to continuously string the listener along. I don't mean this as if Dear is constantly leading you on by teasing at the cusp of a climax or catharsis; in fact Black City is comprised of dozens of them. No, what keeps setting the listener off balance while listening to this album is the fact that, for the album's ten tracks, Dear seems to be constantly perverting the line between the weird and the familiar. It's the kind of music that I would imagine playing in the background at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe; to someone this stuff is normal, but, for you, there is this constant nagging feeling that there's something not quite right. I feel like Arthur Dent when presented with the nine-minute monster of a single, "Little People (Black City)" (What is this guy saying? 'Love me like a clown'? Am I supposed to dance to this?... Okay."). "Ride with me / In my big black car," Dear demands so matter-of-factly in "You Put a Smell on Me" and I can't help but think of Zaphod Beeblebrox exercising his space-age swag in that untouchable black car. It's all tantalizingly delectable, but if there's one thing that Black City won't make you feel, it's comfortable.
Even when Matthew steps off the dance floor and into the heavens on album closer, "Gem", the man can't help but infuse some weirdness into the proceedings. Ultimately, this may be incumbent upon his very style as a performer. Throughout Black City, Dear sings with either one or two other voices accompanying him, singing the same notes just at different octaves. As a result, it never feels like just Dear is serenading you, but two or three are simultaneously, and you can understand how uncomfortable one can feel when all those voices close in for intimacy. For however disturbing it may sound in text, damnit if it doesn't sound creepily compelling on record.
At its worst, Black City sounds like filler from Gorillaz first two albums, and, at its best, it sounds like the kind of gilded trash techno that would score a Samurai Jack episode. You'll hear Matthew Dear sing in an unwavering monotone reminiscent of Stephin Merritt that will sound convincing whether speaking of relationship obligations, surgery or monkeys. Black City may only be truly appropriate music for an intergalactic dance party millions of lightyears away, but, if it never had that inherent eccentricity to it, it might never have been nearly as alluring.