Early on in Matthew Dear's Beams— the New York-based artist's fourth full-length, his first since 2010’s shadowy masterpiece Black City— something strange happens. A thick-fingered electric bass gallops in atop a driving backbeat as Dear sneers, "It’s alright to be someone else sometimes." It may be odd to hear former techno-wunderkind Matthew Dear playing rock music, but the manic punk pulse of "Earthforms" is just one facet of Beams’ kaleidoscopic journey. Shot through with equal parts optimism and uneasiness, Beams is the latest transmission from one of pop music's most fascinating creative minds.
Recorded in Dear's home studio and mixed at Nicolas Vernhes' Rare Book Room studios in Brooklyn, Beams evokes a day-lit dreamworld at once strange and familiar. While the album's dancefloor-ready tempos, major keys, and sun-warmed synths signal Beams as the lighter, brighter response to its predecessor, closer inspection reveals a squirming mass of oddball details. Dear's latest productions creak and groan like anxious organisms, with slivers of guitar, electric bass, and drum kit darting in and out among the synths and samples. Beams delights in thoughtful leftfield juxtapositions: the leathery, handclap-heavy funk of "Up & Out" barrels into the anxious wig-out of "Overtime"; the dark, burbling dirge "Shake Me" sets the stage for the melancholic simmer of album closer "Temptation".
Beams’ lyrics, meanwhile, are deeply personal, expressing vulnerability and confusion in startlingly immediate ways. "Do I feel love like all of the others or is this feeling only mine?" Dear sings on the strutting lead-off single "Her Fantasy", later wondering "Am I one heartbeat away from receiving a damaging shock to my life?" Dear has grown into his songwriting voice, and he wears his current lyrical perspective—that of a man with something to lose—with an impressive grace.
When all is said and done, the central tension in Matthew Dear's Beams— musical mischief vs. lyrical maturity—may not be a tension at all. After all, growing up involves learning to integrate all of one's disparate selves. "I’m about 4 to 5 different people at any given time," Dear says. "By allowing all of those different personalities to exist… the most pure and direct self can come through in the music. [The songs] may still be cryptic, and full of contradictions—but in my opinion, that is pure, unadulterated thought in musical form. They are direct lines to the center."