Matthew Dear’s career is almost as eclectic as his music. He has been labeled as a DJ, a producer, and an experimental pop artist by peers and critics, while the artist himself holds four different aliases (Audion, False, Jabberjaw, and Matthew Dear) depending on the nature of the project on which he’s working. He’s the co-founder of Ghostly International and Spectral Sound, and has remixed artists such as The XX, Spoon, and The Postal Service. Since the early 2000’s, Dear has released five full-length albums, each experimenting in a different area of the Pop-EDM world, and each meeting high critical acclaim. For example, the music journalism giants at Pitchfork called his 2003 single, “Dog Days,” one of the top 100 songs of the decade. His newest album, “Beams” holds its own in a vast library of previous success, demonstrating Dear’s ability to continually outdo himself.
The opener, “Her Fantasy,” acts as a cool, seductive intro to the album. The beat is comprised of synth drums and an assortment of found sounds including squeaky toys and a vibraslap, while the melody hangs in the background as a simple four chords played on an airy synth. One of the highlights is the falsetto vocal choir that enters at the bridge, ringing and echoing around the stereo field, taking the music to the next level of spiritual ecstasy.
The overall feel of the music is somewhere between Talking Heads and Beck. It’s energetic music with a dark, sexy edge. Its creative energy seems to be rooted in spontaneity, with its liberal use of non-traditional instruments and sounds, while its structure is seemingly more rigid, choosing to adhere to a verse-chorus-verse progression. A strong opener, promising another impressive album.
Track two, “Earthforms,” is fast-paced and hard-hitting. Headed by an electric bass groove and a driving acoustic drum set, this track delves into the indie-rock sphere with reckless abandon. Dear’s layered vocals and his use of electronic noise create harsh, dissonant textures near the end of the track, making the listener feel ugly and dirty after listening.
While the track is certainly danceable, it’s also intricate enough to be dissected and analyzed. Perhaps what’s most apparent is the unique craftsmanship embedded within the music, spanning a multitude genres and time periods, bordering the lines between EDM, indie, new wave, and rock, resulting in something both familiar and unique.
Listening to track four, “Fighting is Futile,” further confirmed for me that Dear does not constrain himself to one genre. This is apparent in the beat, as it’s constructed with clipped voice samples and jarring electronic beeps. Yet strangely, the end result is something both feel-good and danceable. The melody is what I’d classify as “Space Funk.” The synthesizer is dramatic and raw, but repetitive enough to lull listeners into a dreamlike trance. And while the meat of the track is certainly worth discussing, the most intriguing section lies at the end, after the music has completely faded away. Dear reenters with a mournful guitar line that hangs above a ghostly, industrial ambience. Bleak and beautiful, simple and seemingly out of nowhere. The perfect change of pace.
Dear keeps up with the strange in track seven, “Get the Rhyme Right.” Driven by an ominous bass line and balanced with a light-hearted guitar melody, this track not only successfully combines contrasting musical ideas, but exhibits a unique mentality as well. The lyrics are great; “Horse man, stuck in the mud, I will never forget, clean air, heavenly smells, I will never forget.” What he’s getting at exactly, I have no idea, but his words convey this bizarre mental-state almost perfectly. Then he brings in the noise loops, whining drone tones, a detuned radio, and a screeching synth, all layered to construct a very specific chaos, both terrifying and jubilant.
Track eight, “Ahead of myself,” is not my favorite, but it feels so central to the album, that I feel it necessary to write about. The music is both dreamy and disjointed, featuring sudden voice samples, a drumbeat drowned in fuzzy static, and a confused synth moaning drunkenly in the back. The lyrics are regretful and vaguely threatening. “Living days without rest, but wait I’m getting ahead of myself, feeling like running but I could have stayed put, cause I’m getting ahead of myself.”
A lot of people on the Soundcloud comment thread called this track their favorite, and I guess I can see why, but for me, the music felt static the whole way through. Not much changed in feel or structure, and I thought it ended up a little boring. On the other hand, the one idea at play in this tune (call it playfully depraved) makes this track feel more personal than the others. Where a lot of “Beams” deals with expressing a certain mentality, it feels like Dear is revealing himself a little more through his lyrics, making this track particularly emotionally accessible.
And finally, an album with a brilliant closer! The closing track, “Temptations” holds a hidden energy that keeps building, heading towards something extraordinary, and I found myself fully engaged the whole way through. The track starts out fluctuating between two synth notes and is slowly fused with a tidal wave of synth ambience, growing in volume and presence, becoming more and more revelatory as the track progresses. At the chorus, Dear reintroduces the falsetto vocal choir again, shedding a heavenly light on the music pulsing below. After a short drum break comes the final chorus, lush and celebratory, where Dear’s deep vocals sing over and over, “I can not ride this lonely feeling.” Then there’s a slow percussive deconstruction until the song finally cuts off, leaving the listener in sudden silence.
“Beams,” by Matthew Dear, is an album that successfully functions as a complete work. It’s strong and consistent from beginning to end, containing only one or two filler tracks. The album is focused on achieving a certain mentality, one that involves keeping it cool and keeping it weird. He draws from hundreds of genres, centering mostly on 80’s new wave and modern day indie-pop, but executes his ideas in an original and mature manner. I admire the way Dear constructs his songs, as most of them are one idea continuously built on to reach climax, a very sound and intelligent way to write. The lyrics are super off-the-wall, which I found to be a nice change of pace from other lyric based EDM, which is usually concerned with getting drunk, or getting laid, or getting drunk and then getting laid. On the whole, this album is well structured and executed masterfully, an impressive piece of work.