Posted on 9/17/2012
Matthew Dear's fifth full-length, Beams, effectively acts as a history lesson in the more accessible side of electronic and dance music. It's a release that has been classified as "Tech House"; simply a fusion of techno and house. That still doesn't quite give enough credit to all the ground being covered here. Beams plays like a compilation of electronica highlights over the decades. Basic warped vocal samples loop like they would on an old 808 State track. A synthetic beat paired with a live bass guitar track rumbles in a way similar to an early New Order joint. Cold and practically synthetic vocals adorn a hypnotic rhythm in a manner reminiscent of Kraftwerk on one track, but dry and flat vocals layer melodies atop a colorful pop backing in what is practically a nod to Prince's golden era on another. "Up & Out" sounds like a futuristic new twist on the Tom Tom Club's classic "Genius of Love". Dear's vocal presence ranges from nearly delusional yelps a la John Maus to clever storyteller like James Murphy.
You can see how all this genre-hopping makes Beams a difficult record to classify. Let me back up a bit - it's not even genre-hopping per se, more like trying to genre-hop but landing comfortably between two to create a new little tiny microgenre of his own which has already been abandoned by the time the next track starts. At times Beams is what's coming from the soundsystem occupied by the introverted DJ absorbed in his setup in the corner of the room while others mingle about. At other times it's the album you have to turn up a bit louder because you've accelerated a little faster on the freeway and not only are all the windows down but the sunroof is cracked open too. Occasionally it's just the album filling your headphones as you're yet again up too late doing whatever synthpop-savvy folks do on the internet these days.
The album's opener and closer are its longest tracks, which seems to be a highly conscious decision. "Her Fantasy" starts the album off right with samples that are a clear nod to the British breed of acid house from the late 80's. The track gradually builds up to a dense climax that shows much promise for the next 10 tracks. By the time "Temptation" arrives, we've already been given a thorough sample of what makes Matthew Dear a noteworthy artist in the electronic music world of the 21st century.
Written by Tom Steffes, Radio K volunteer.
Tags: matthew dear beams weekly release spotlight