After making his name as one of the Midwest's foremost sonic auteurs at microhouse's peak, Matthew Dear's spent the last five years or so reshaping himself into a producer whose electronic-based music pitches toward America's past-rock glories as much as global dance music climes. Beginning with Asa Breed but perhaps peaking with the Brian Eno and Talking Heads indebted tech-pop of 2010's excellent Black City, Dear has continued to navigate the poppier ends of the electronic music spectrum in a fleet-footed manner that kept us guessing where he'd be two years down the line.
Now with Beams, Dear's fifth full-length, he's continuing to navigate the broad crossover between the two realms, and for the first time in a while, in a manner that could actually serve as a companion piece to earlier work. Dear has spoken in interviews about a recent move from Brooklyn to more pastoral reclines a few hours from the city. It's interesting to note then the warmer, more peaceful glow, especially in its second half, compared to Black City, even if it still finds the 33 year-old producer tracing the sort of scuzzfuck corners of the night that LP did.
Fleshed out with flecks of African-style guitar and tumbling bass—just listen to the jungle rumble of "Earthforms"—there's still the trademarked bedrock: that motor-fueled, machine-grind churn. "Get the Rhyme Right," for example, finds Dear again trading in the sleazy funk of "You Put a Smell On Me," with its slow guitar pluck and plodding bass. "Fighting is Futile" is a delirious, jumpy thing, topping slurred, fast-pitched vocal clips with Dear's drug-blur voice and an arcing synth line. Lead single "Her Fantasy," arguably the best thing here, opens with a distant, buried vocal sample before a looping siren-like sound and neon arpeggiation layer in. Both "Up and Out" and "Overtime" are similar slices of cyborg-funk, forefronted by muscular bassline and off-kilt guitar, Dear filling the edges with only the slightest coloring of synths.
As the album settles into its second half though, there's a dawning of sorts to Dear's approach to sound, a lightening around the edges of the first half's sensual drive. This contemplation, this self-examination, is matched by the levity of Dear's music. "Ahead of Myself," for example, sounds almost child-like, with its soft smears of synth and slow rhythm setting the stage for Dear letting you into those momentary things inside his head—"there were days without rest/but wait I'm getting ahead of myself/feel like running/but I gotta stay put/cause I'm getting ahead of myself." "Do the Right Thing" is similarly downy, its intersecting synth melodies a tune of lullaby, and "Temptation" finds Dear emoting vocally across a backdrop of pulsating waves of sound that are almost sun-blinding. Musically it's an optimistic and forward-looking moment that also serves as the closing on the latest chapter in Dear's evolution. If it's not quite full-step we've come to expect from him, its final act certainly alludes to a man growing into the warmth of new home-life, to life unbound by the cement and glass outlines of the city, to a place to stop and finally really breathe.
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Tracklist: Matthew Dear - Beams 01. Her Fantasy
04. Fighting Is Futile
05. Up & Out
07. Get The Rhyme Right
08. Ahead Of Myself
09. Do the Right Thing
10. Shake Me
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