Review: Matthew Dear – ‘Beams’

beamsFor a long time Matthew Dear looked like he would remain steadfastly in the margins, ploughing an esoteric furrow that was loved by Lower Manhattan’s chattering classes but ignored by a considerable slug of everyone else.

When we last came across the Texan-now-New Yorker he’d just released 2007’s ‘Asa Breed‘, an essay in claustrophobic, at-the-margins disco which at its peak seemed the obvious final halt of the then death rattling electro-clash movement.

The problem for Dear was that at the time, in the UK at least, many people were indulging in a renaissance – I use the word in its loosest possible sense – of Britpop values. Over here a host of young men claiming direct lineage from Noel Gallagher were busily caricaturing his lowest common denominators, to the extent that the likes of The Rapture, CSS and a host of new ravers were shown the populist door faster than you can say open E.

Whilst these cocks were being indie rocked you sensed there was little chance of a true breakthrough. Persistence and some self belief can go a long way in this industry however, and symbiotically whilst Dear has continued releasing work into a lessening critical vacuum, palates have moved towards his work. Try, try again eh.

Beams follows 2010’s ‘Black City‘ – thematically about dealing with the threat of being chewed up and spat out by the mechanistic embrace of his adopted host – but more tellingly, a songwriter who seems ready to come to terms with dealing in the dynamics of pop. Growing up with a taste making older brother who schooled him in the British electronic pioneers of the eighties – New Order, Depeche Mode et al – it’s no surprise that Dear is able to navigate between the daytime and underground worlds comfortably.

Opener ‘Her Fantasy‘ is the almost euphoric, warmly soulful and at times unsophisticated enough to reach out to practically anyone. It’s true to say that this isn’t dance music in its narrowest context, but then again the distinction seems unimportant, and defining genre boundaries today is something of a thankless anyway.

For a record about a release of personal pressure, ‘Beams‘ keeps in full control, typically metronomic of beats (Dear has a second life as a techno artist) and upbeat rather than euphoric. ‘Fighting Is Futile‘ sets this tone, an urbane ripple of multi layered synths and the singer’s chasm-deep vocals set to croon level. Comparisons will be made to late period Roxy Music, or even to Japan, but perspective dictates that this 21st century lounge lizardry is taken less seriously. No matter, as there are numerous moments for the less commercially minded to enjoy, ‘Earthforms‘ throbbing with post-punk menace and the fragile, ambient melodies of ‘Shake Me‘ sounding like they come from a pre dawn world which exists longer after the party has finished.

Dear has recently revealed that he’s bought a house out in the woods, and it’s hard to imagine what kind of effect that seclusion would have on the thought process that created ‘Do The Right Thing‘, or the swampy, synth blues of ‘Overtime‘. In this respect, whether the city made him or not it’s hard to countenance any kind of pastoral rebirth, more like strobe lights pulsing between the branches, and a dozen critters, circled Bambi-like, all nodding their heads in approval.

Anything’s now possible.

(Arctic Reviews)

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