Music

Matthew Dear: Beams

Matthew Dear returns to claim his crown as the rightful king of electro art-pop with an album that represents the neon-lit dawn of an artist at the height of his creative powers.


Matthew Dear

Beams

Label: Ghostly International
US Release Date: 2012-08-28
UK Release Date: 2012-08-27
Amazon
iTunes

Matthew Dear’s CV certainly doesn’t give the impression of a shrinking violet. On the contrary, he is well regarded as a talented producer and multi-instrumentalist, not to mention co-founder of pioneering, independent record label Ghostly International, home to a number of other high-profile electronic artists, such as Gold Panda and School Of Seven Bells.

As a solo artist, Dear remains somewhat of an enigma, with much of his work up until now, overshadowed by a heavy debt owed to his electro art-pop forebears. He started out as a DJ, and much of his work outside of that profession has been marked by a hangover from those days; Dear metaphorically carrying his record collection around with him and wearing his influences on his sleeve. Maybe you can credit much of his oracularity to this. Indeed if you close your eyes and listen to his early output, you can almost feel the distant, melodic hum of a nightclub, the lights slowly strobing across the dancefloor, as he deftly crossfades between Talking Heads, Inner City and Neu!.

That’s not to say that this transparency detracts from his sound, just that such obvious heritage has often made his own voice less distinct. These influences which were so overt in his earlier, more experimental, output began to dissipate somewhat with the release of 2010’s beautiful Black City. If the title wasn’t implication enough, the album formulates itself as a greyscale digital landscape, which is dark, unsettling and more self-assured than anything that preceded it.

Tellingly, the cover artwork for Beams, his fifth solo outing, is an impressionistic portrait of Dear himself, his face illuminated by thick brushstrokes and bright colours, still a little indistinct but bold nevertheless. This artwork is a good primer for the mood that runs through the 11 transformative electro-pop journeys which follow. It captures Dear at the moment when he moves out of the shadows, digests the inheritance of his influences and creates something which is definitively his own.

This confidence is no more apparent than on album opener “Her Fantasy”, a six-minute dancefloor overture, which tips its cap to his Detroit techno roots in its opening few seconds, as the dim and distant whistles of an acid-house rave slowly fade up, but hints towards the surprisingly buoyant album which is to follow. This driving, polyphonic bounce runs through the album and continues into tracks like “Up & Out” and “Fighting is Futile”. On the latter Dear sings, “If all I had was this / Then I’d feel satisfied”, and you find it hard to disagree with his feeling of contentment.

Elsewhere, the influences that have shaped Dear’s career to date are still audible, but seem to have finally coalesced into a sound which is at once familiar and yet totally his own. Earthforms channels the moody basslines of The Cure, whilst "Headcage" opens like Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”, before transforming into startling, sexy electro-funk, where we find Dear in full party mode, solemnly intoning, “Your mamma won’t care if you stay out tonight / Throw your rocks in the air, let’s go have fun tonight”.

Of course, that is not to say that everything has changed. Dear’s vocals, with their intriguing solemnity and gritty depths are still present. In the past they have often been discordant against the thick waves of melodic synth-pop, but here this unique vocal style (which lies somewhere between a sexed-up Stephen Merritt and a modulated Leonard Cohen) works in dynamic synthesis with both the music and his more upbeat lyrical intentions. There are also bleaker moments to be found: the aggressive wub-wub bass of “Overtime”, the contemplative “Ahead of Myself” and the jet black dirge-dub of “Shake Me Up”. These are the closest the album gets to emulating the slow burn that was evident on Black City and hints towards an intriguing darkness which simmers near the surface, but never threatens to overpower.

With Beams, Matthew Dear has created his most intoxicating, accomplished and immediate paean to all that has come before him and everything that now stands in front of him. His skills as DJ and producer are never more apparent, as he takes the listener on a hypnotic and melodic journey, which builds, one superlative track at a time. The cliche goes that it is often darkest before the dawn and if Black City represents the dark night of Dear’s soul, Beams is the neon-lit dawn of an accomplished artist at the height of his creative powers.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image