Matthew Dear: Beams

Matthew Dear
(Ghostly International)

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“Fighting is Futile” promises and implores the listener to “take a trip on something else.” As with Matthew Dear’s previously releases, Beams is bright, but perversely bleak. “Fighting is Futile” (a title that already signals the resigned realistic optimism nee pessimism, which pervades the entire album), has a repetitive plea to listen with an ear for difference in Dear’s deep gravelly voice that fits perfectly with the depressed but resigned feel, while the musical elements are shining and light-hearted.

While the album continues themes from Dear’s previous work (specifically Asa Breed and Black City, the two albums immediately preceding this one), it doesn’t feel quite as original. Songs like “Headcage” are dark dance-inducing tracks that work on Dear’s vocals and layered beats. There’s obviously a higher standard with artists who have produced so strongly in the past, so “Headcage,” which avoids sounding to much like kitsch 90’s scifi movie score, still doesn’t hit the emotional high that Dear’s songs have in the past. His vocals are awkward in how subdued they start, and when he starts to open up, the beat has died in its intensity through its repetition.

Beams is music striving for a particular ambience. Listening to “Overtime” for example is more dark but sexy thrilling bass thumping, guitar crying, and the occasional womp from electric feedback. (Interesting fact: Matthew Dear has only ever used one bass guitar. Ever.) It’s not the music, which is strong and electronica at its best, but the vocals that might disconnect the listener. They don’t quite gel with the vibes that are being produced. On “Do the Right Thing,” the simulated horn, steel drums, and upbeat guitar give a jungle feel, but Dear’s vocals ground it in a morbid reality. “I feel hollow as a grave/I have to dig everyday,” he sings in the slow deep bass drawl.

It’s the high standard that dooms Beams. It’s a great album, but in the midst of other stellar works in the artist’s oeuvre, it’s just not quite there. Although, I suspect, that there is a strong aging to Beams and that after more listens, what felt lazy and subdued will feel nuanced and perfectly capturing the hopeless pessimism that’s a clear theme.

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