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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Matthew Dear: Beams (Release Date: 8-28-2012)

        Matthew Dear makes dance music both wholly familiar, and wildly alien. It's dark, crunchy, textured stuff, as liable to creep out the listener as it is to send their toes a' tapping. In this sense, Dear's work is a clear descendant of Nine Inch Nails, but that doesn't stop an avalanche of 80's synth-rock from pouring down into his art (the fact that Dear isn't signed onto James Murphy's DFA label is almost difficult to believe). While Dear's music has always bared his unmistakable stamp, the color of the ink has been subject to change. His 2007 release, Asa Breed, wore some of his weirdo ambitions, but in a much brighter, less twisted sense than his 2010 follow-up, Black City. Given this background, eager listeners could only expect two things from Beams: for Matthew Dear to sound like Matthew Dear, and for Matthew Dear to sound decidedly different than his last time out.

        Opener and initial leak Her Fantasy starts things out in a predictably unpredictable manner, mixing Breed's sunshine and expansiveness with City's claustrophobia and prominent use of warped vocals. It's the albums longest track, and yet one of its least eager to evolve, grooving along through subtly marked movements before finally floating off into the distance. This amalgamation of Breed's style and sound with that of City turns out to be particularly indicative of the album as a whole, discovering a sacred middle ground that allows Dear to keep the former album's accessibility, while still  letting the latter's freak-flag fly. Tunes like Fighting is Futile, Overtime, and album-highlight Earthforms show Dear as a master tailor, sewing his previous learnings together into something new and exciting.

        It would be easy to heap excessive praise onto Beams, its best material among the best of the year, but the snoozers here simply must be acknowledged. Headcage, a lackluster effort from Dear's similarly-titled EP from earlier this year, makes yet another appearance here, not a single tune-up to its name. By no means is it bad stuff, it just sticks out for being relatively unimaginative on an album full of home-runs. Same goes for both Get the Rhyme Right and Shake Me, a pair of take-'em-or-leave-'ems that manage to bog down the disc's second half considerably. No, Beams isn't the masterpiece of wonky dance music that its opening suggests, but that doesn't make its champion tracks any less indelible. Dear is, and always has been, a guy to get excited about, and his latest proves that he's only just getting started.

Grade: B

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