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Matthew Dear

Slowdance EP

[Ghostly International; 2011]

By ; July 20, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Even though Black City was another curveball for the often experimental mogul Matthew Dear, it was still a hit. The album was another left turn for him, taking listeners away from the bustling street party that was Asa Breed down a dark alley into the shadowy grime of the fictitious city’s underbelly. But if anything, Dear seemed more comfortable amongst the haunting shadows and the gritty textures and explored the dirtiest, most electrically charged sounds (“You Put A Smell On Me”) and also the more serene glimmers that hovered above the dark alleys and streetlights (“Gem”).

The Slowdance EP – which collects numerous remixes of both the title track and two other album highlights while also wrapping up proceedings by tucking in an extra b-side for good measure – is Dear’s victory lap. As guessed by the aforementioned slew of superlatives Dear most definitely deserves it. Seeing him live before and after the release of this EP he definitely seems as enthusiastic and passionate about this material as he did months ago, not long after Black City was settling in our heads.

“Slowdance,” in retrospect, is an apt number to lead the EP as it both serves as a pleasing comedown after the insistent throbbing of Black City’s heaviest moments all while still retaining a gentle, almost warm, electrical pulse throughout. Even though Dear’s lyrics are a little warbled, his best and most affecting phrases come through clear and they can carry a lot of weight with them (“I can’t be the one to tell you everything’s wrong”). While the song might not be Black City’s most affecting moment (that title has to go to the delicate album closer “Gem”), it’s the perfect middle ground song that acts as a respite between the two more significantly charged moments.

And it’s interesting how the song is morphed and remixed by other artists. How To Dress Well creates what sounds like an entirely new sound, dousing the material in a haunting veil of eerie drones and crackling high pitched vocals. It’s an engrossing listen, not just for the transformation but for the mysterious ambience it emits. Todd Edwards’ remix, on the other hand, turns the song into an 80s jittery dance number that makes the vocals clearer and more accessible. Again it’s a notable change of pace and it’s pulled off without losing any of the song’s original integrity. After these two versions the Bear In Heaven remix is a bit of a let down as it gets bogged down in skipping repetition and playful keys struggling to decide if it wants you to dance or get lost in the effects.

The other remixes fare much the same in that there are some enjoyable ones included and others which don’t feel quite as essential. The three versions of “You Put A Smell On Me” offer a good variety: the Photocall remix adds dashes of neon synths which keep a steady pace bar the cumbersome drum into and outro; Nicolas Jaar works in his typical fashion, spreading the song out over seven and a half minutes with careful ticking synths and a bobbing rhythm which gives the song a considered late-night comedown feel. The Breakbot remix once again brings in sounds from another decade with roller-disco keys and slap bass all while morphing Dear’s already skewed voice into a childish and nasal alien instrument. Surprisingly it works and is in itself a nice ode to Dear’s manipulating habits with his voice and keys while incorporating some live instruments. Whereas before you might have been head-banging to the original, the Breakbot version will more likely have you swaying with its carefree swagger.

Of the two versions of “Little People (Black City)” on offer here it’s only really the Mark E remix that feels like it deserves your attention as it dissects a selection of melodies from the original song all while keeping a plentiful amount of cowbell in the mix. It’s nothing on the nine and half minute masterpiece on Black City, but considering how bustling with life and potential it is, any re-interpretation or remix was always going to have a its work cut out. That said, the Sascha Dive Dub remix lazily adds some heavier (dub) beats, but its relentlessness is its only real quality, which itself becomes tiresome after a short while.

In fairness, the pedestal I put Black City on was always going to make it hard for any artist to impress me. The material on the album is near enough golden for pretty much all of its playtime (I’ll concede it dips a little in quality around the second third of the album) that as inevitable as remixes were, they weren’t entirely necessary – at least not for myself. Still, that doesn’t mean the better remixes here are unwelcome, as they help dissect the often complex layers and put them in a new light.

After seeing Dear live with his band twice, I was so impressed that I couldn’t help but pine after a live version of Black City. On stage the songs seem to have a new forceful energy while adding new layers (trumpets, more guitars and bass) and it opens up new possibilities for where the material could go. Looking ahead, though, Dear could likely morph the songs on the album into entirely new creatures if he wished, and if the settling and ethereal b-side “Innh Dahh” is anything to go by then it sounds like Dear is ready to put Black City to rest. At least it’s been one hell of a ride.


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