Making tentative steps into the singer/songwriter field, Texas avant-garde producer Matthew Dear eschews the dark oppressive soundscapes of 2010’s Black City for a much more optimistic and melodic approach on his fifth studio album, Beams.
Indeed, while his previous efforts have hinted at his love for David Byrne and David Bowie, here his idol worship is made painstakingly obvious, resulting in a much more song-based collection of hipster art-pop tracks.
With its intricate Afrobeat riffs and languid grooves, “Up & Out” recalls Talking Heads at their early 80s finest, as does the brooding spacey funk of “Get The Rhyme Right,” while there are definite shades of The Thin White Duke in Dear’s detached emotionless vocals, particularly on the Middle Eastern-tinged R&B of “Ahead Of Myself.”
Elsewhere, the languid beats, washed out synths and hip-hop samples of opener “Her Fantasy” and the robotic nu-disco of “Fighting Is Futile” are nearer to the glitchy Detroit techno Dear made his name with in the early 00s, whilst the brooding ambience of “Shake Me” shows he can still give James Blake a run for his money when it comes to spacious electronica.
But there are occasions when Matthew Dear sounds downright bored, especially in the plodding teutonic electro of “Do The Right Thing” and the slow-motion house of “Headcage,” the latter of which features a rare outside interference in the shape of Fever Ray producer Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid.
And it’s telling that the record’s most vibrant moment occurs when Dear steps outside his comfort zone on “Earthforms,” a straightforward bass-driven number which echoes the gloomy post-punk of Joy Division, and one that suggests he may need yet another alter-ego to further explore his rockier tendencies.
Slightly more conventional than his usual idiosyncratic output, Beams is nevertheless still a complex and intelligent record, but its lack of focus means it suffers from the same inconsistency that has dogged Matthew Dear’s weird and sometimes wonderful career.