There’s an undeniably liberated feeling about the soaring tone of “Her Fantasy”, the opening track and lead single from Matthew Dear’s latest album Beams. The rousing chord progression could lend itself to summertime radio, arguably more so than the previous ventures Dear has taken into arch pop music, but more than its accessibility the song sounds like a man celebrating the plain of freedom his creative path has led him to.
When 2007’s Asa Breed crept on the radar, it was a shock to those who had been avidly following Dear through his early micro house excursions and Audion techno nastiness. Between traditional song structures, undead vocals and a warm band dynamic, it was a decisive veer towards an entirely other goal from the dank nightclub that had suited Dear so well before. It was a resounding success only expanded upon with the follow up LP Black City, which took yet more grandiose synth-pop steps (not least on the sprawling epic “Little People”) and yet found a greater focus in terms of a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Beams, as hinted with track one, sounds like the expression Dear has been charging towards all this time, further removed from his techno origins and yet still rich with his unique stamp. In terms of reference points from the past, there’s a strong undercurrent of post punk and krautrock which is more explicit than before. “Earthforms” revolves around a crisp live bass line, while strange stomp box effects usurp digital ripples as the decoration of choice, and in turn provides a more natural home for the stiff singing voice Dear has developed for himself.
Ostensibly this is still an album more indebted to electronics than guitars, and there are plenty of pleasant reminders of the inimitable Matthew Dear sound. It has always manifested itself in a melee of nagging and snagging loops spun into a delirious frenzy, as perfectly exemplified in the backbone of “Fighting Is Futile”. However before peeling back all the nuances of the production methods, this is pop music first and foremost. It’s the hooky melodies, groove and vocals that grab you before anything else, which is undoubtedly what Dear has been aiming for all this time and seems to have perfected here. On previous albums, the strangeness of the way the songs were executed sometimes took precedence over the tunes themselves, whereas on Beams it’s there to be enjoyed once you spend some time working in between the verses and choruses.
There’s no softening of the edges or dumbing down, as the domineering arpeggio of “Overtime” will stoutly remind you when it starts its lumbering sequence, or in the humming weirdo funk of “Ahead of Myself”. Now though, Dear has succeeded in reining in his oddball ways and carefully balancing them to create a joyous album of pleasant songs that sounds like nothing else out there, without being too out there.
1. Her Fantasy
4. Fighting Is Futile
5. Up & Out
7. Get The Rhyme Right
8. Ahead Of Myself
9. Do The Right Thing
10. Shake Me