Though electronically tinged pop has been gaining in popularity in the past few years, only a select few artists have been pushed into the limelight.
Headliners like Avicii and Skrillex have turned heads and dominated at festivals like Hard, which has exploded in size over the years. Electronic dance music has never been bigger, and it doesn’t seem to be going away.
Thankfully, the new contemporary-electronic umbrella hasn’t killed one of the genre’s older talents, as Matthew Dear continues to make some of the most fun albums around. His latest, Beams, is a funky dancer of an album that features a few bright stars carrying a few more dim ones.
The lead single and first track “Her Fantasy” sparkles from start to finish. If there were ever a song to set high expectations for a release, this would be it. Every beat sizzles with pleasure as his voice speak-sings an infectious melody on a beat so good you just have to boogie. The track is pure fun, and though it runs more than six minutes long, it could easily keep going.
From start to finish, “Her Fantasy” bounces with a joyous energy and has had people dancing along for weeks leading up to the release of the full-length.
“Earthforms” displays another new mode for Dear. An addictive bassline pulsates the first half of what seems to be a normal disco track before entering Dear’s Brooklyn sound circa 2002. It’s another change from his usual style, and both tracks feel strangely out of place on the album. To hear him explore new grounds is always fun — and more so when the bassline is this hypnotizing — but sadly the rest of the album doesn’t live up to the high standards set in these first two tracks: They descend more into his usual fare. (Not that this is a bad thing: Dear’s standout previous release Black City, where he forged this formula was one of the unappreciated gems of 2010).
With “Headcage,” the album shifts back into usual Dear gear. The strangely danceable song thuds along and vocals in Dear’s sing-song voice lulls you into a trance.
No matter how repetitive Dear’s musical trademark becomes, “Fighting is Futile” and “Up & Out” prove this mood worthwhile, forming a streak of five hot hits to open the album. “Futile” features steel drums clinking on top of a rippling madness, before a serenely ringing riff carries the song through the fadeout. “Up” has a dirty funk bassline to follow Dear’s hypnotizing drone.
This is where Dear gets a bit too comfortable; the middle section is a triple-play in the middle of a rally. It manages to not only kill, but brutally destroy the considerable momentum heading into it. “Overtime,” wub-wubbing enough to make you cringe, is an awful track. It could easily be mistaken for a bad dubstep remix until picking up the pace two-thirds of the way through before Dear chants “fade out” through the song’s fade-out.
“Get the Rhyme Right” doesn’t pick up the pace much, sounding like Spoon on synthesizers, and “Ahead of Myself” sounds like Dear doing his best Joe Goddard impression.
Even with the clear creative influences, these songs feel a bit too familiar — that is to say, not particularly good or interesting. “Get the Rhyme Right” still works off of the same sort of bass riff as the earlier tracks, and though “Ahead of Myself” has the bells and whistles of newer Hot Chip singles, it follows the same musical undercurrents as the rest of the album.
Though it might just be fatigue from hearing him go back to the same well so many times at this point in the album, neither track is particularly enthralling. This middle third of the album drags; you can’t help but think that this might be a place Dear treads a bit too often. Further variations on the same theme would be appreciated over expounding upon the same style endlessly.
Though Dear doesn’t deviate from this echoing, he does do it in a more interesting manner. “Do the Right Thing” doesn’t represent a shift in the style as much as it does it better than the rest. You have to bounce as Dear half-whines, half-groans his way over funk and buzz. His voice provides the beat through a variety of dum’s and bum-chika-bum’s looping through the background, juxtaposing beautifully with the drone of the song.
“Shake Me” proves a rainy distraction on the way to another standout at the back-end, “Temptation.” Strangely enough, it echoes “Her Fantasy,” and maybe because he never reached that same level of greatness during the album, “Temptation” seems like a challenger for the crown as best track on the record.
The breakdown and Dear’s slurred chants about his “insides fall[ing] to pieces” provide a fitting coda to what’s ultimately a broken record.