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The Unknown Music: Matthew Dear – ‘Black City’

Enigmatic and dark, this project invites you in.

Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to find and write about a physical piece of music (CD, album or cassette) they had no prior knowledge of. You can find out how it all unfolded by browsing our music section

Before writing this, I took a trip to my local library to find an album from an artist I have never seen or heard of. I scanned through the miniature collection, discovering they carry Jay-Z’s last solo album, 4:44, a few of Britney Spears’ projects, and French Montana’s last album Jungle Rules. I wasn’t sure which genre I was interested in listening to or what type of artist I was looking to spot, but I came across an enigmatic album titled Black City.

College Media Network The Unknown Music: Matthew Dear - 'Black City'

The album was encased inside of a plastic CD container and had identification about the album’s title, last name of the artist, the front cover artwork, and the tracklist on the back. According to my local library, Black City was a Pop album for Young Adults. I chose to review because I was intrigued by the darkness it exuded from the title and album artwork. I was also interested because there was a track called “You Put A Smell On Me,” and I wanted to know the story behind it.

Once imported, I discovered the actual genre for the album is Indie Rock and was released in 2010 by an artist name Matthew Dear. “Honey” was the introduction to the 10-track project and sets the foundation for a pondering and dark album. While “Honey” was the opposite of sticky and sweet, it seamlessly segue-ways into “I Can’t Feel,” a track which made my body move in an unexpected way.

The creative affair also reigns through “Little People (BlackCity);” produced and written by Dear, the nine minute track transforms and shifts from one beat to a different sound, while maintaining a consistent bass from the start. As previously mentioned, in addition to its dark theme, when I observed the track list, Black City has a track titled “You Put A Smell On Me,” and I wanted to see how Dear manipulated the old phrase “I’ll put a spell on you” into a song.

“You Put A Smell On Me” is repetitive, but memorizing; slimy and beaming. After listening, I imagined it playing at an underground rave filled with ecstasy, sweat, and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Although the sounds are rave worthy, the lyrics provide a story. Over the song Dear sings about his black car and a woman who he purchased a red gown for. The artist is intrigued by the woman and wants her to take a ride in his “big black car” which can go “real far.” Depending on who you ask, the song could be sexy or creepy. While these lyrics were easily digestible, others weren’t as much.

On “Monkey,” Dear rhymes,

I’m, I’m a monkey / Frozen, in my, monkey dreams / It’s time, time to monkey / Lost, in our monkey sleep / I’m, I am monkey / Sleeping monkey and me / Sight, sight such a monkey / Grownup, in my, monkey dream.

The representation of what a monkey is compared to what Dear sang in the song was a hard bridge to gap. I didn’t understand what he meant by “our monkey sleep” or being frozen in his monkey dreams entailed.

Another song I thought was lyrically confusing was “More Surgery.” Over the five minute track, Dear discusses about being placed under a sedative which has an effect on his body, causing him to move slower than expected, but before that, he mentions how he’s a toothless man. I’m not sure if he singing from the perspective of the preparation for oral surgery or if he’s singing from the perspective of a recovering meth addict. As the album ended with “Gem,” I would say my ears were thoroughly pleased, but my mind was still befuddled.

Although the production across “Black City” were vibrant, hypnotizing, and score worthy; it also had devilish tones across electronic sounds, which were foot-tapping, mysterious, consistent, and way past dark. But the overall message of what Dear was attempting to transcend is what has me at a crossroad of misunderstanding. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t relate to what he rhymes about on certain songs or if it was going over my head.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

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