Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards. Matthew Dear’s fifth album steps further away from the gleaming techno that made his name, and closer to the songcraft and ‘organic’ instruments used by his idols from days gone by, the two Davids: Byrne and Bowie.
The album opens with ‘Her Fantasy’. It’s a supremely assured pop song, and about as far away from the creeping dread of 2010’s masterful ‘Black City’ as it’s possible to get. Indeed, sonically this is a much brighter album. Where ‘…City’ creaked and groaned with fear and sex, ‘Beams’ is a jumble of percussion and bass. It’s as much information overload as a street party. ‘Fighting Is Futile’ has a Caribbean tinge, reminiscent of Ruby Suns, while ‘Up & Out’ could easily be by Talking Heads.
Lyrically though, ‘Beams’ tells a different story. The cover painting shows Dear battered and bruised, and there’s a keen focus on heartbreak. “Is it me or is it you? Is it time for something new? It’s not there anymore,” he sings sadly. It’s not all a downer though. Dear remains a charming presence throughout, cheekily referencing his own songs on ‘Her Fantasy’ and urging us to throw our rocks in the air, air, air.
It sags in a couple of places. ‘Overtime’ sounds urgent, but is boring. And the album really should have closed on the stunning ballad, ‘Do The Right Thing’. But while this may not be as perfectly realised as ‘Black City’, it’s still a beautiful, complex, weird and bold album. Thanks Dear!
Words by WILL SALMON