Monday, 13 August 2012

Matthew Dear - Beams

 

I myself wasn't exactly reaching for the Kleenex when LCD Soundsystem bowed out in Madison Square for the final time last year. But the sight, or rather lack of it, brought a sudden realization that such a spectacle of music and melody may not be seen, in the same manner, for quite some age. In what has been just over 12 months, there's been talk as to who would take centre stage in James Murphy's place, as the next disco-fused song-writer and producer for the digital age of MP3 players and reinvigorating sales in LP records. For Matthew Dear, the scenario is one of almost fated inevitability - the Texan producer already setting himself up to be more than Murphy's equal in both the sound and the technique departments. 'Black City' was, putting it bluntly, a surprise success in how testing dark-mooded disco and electronica can be. And fueled further by Dear's enriching baritone vocals and cunningly picked use of beats, the aspiration for the follow-up was clear to see. 'Beams' then - while less metaphoric in its homage to the back-street midnight disco-techno fusion of yonder - is as captivating a listen as much it is a linger on our ears.

This man's skills as a producer, then, lie in the placement of these individual musical entities. On 'Her Fantasy', Beams' opener, we get a rocking concoction of disco beats alongside a high-hitting passing of space-laser synths and Dear's signature baritone voice. In equal measure, the exchange of melody and hooks is as inwardly drawing as his melt-in-the-middle warming vocals. One of the stand-out elements, as you will find with not just this track but in major parts of the record, is Dear's skills with mixture and combination in creating this dusk soundscape of synths and sound. 'Earthforms' shows a more groovier and earthly edge to this midnight club vibe, bass guitars filling the space between the shaking of percussion and additional strings that create an embossed texture to the track. Again, Dear isn't the man to progress his tracks into differentiating formulas, and while in other examples this could run the risk of becoming stale or stringent in structure, here the sound begins to create a hypnotic magnetism in its hooks.

Where some compositions may be more slowly unveiled and tepid in approach, there are more compact variations that, rather than waiting, simply let loose straight from the off. Tracks like 'Up & Out' which have a yo-yoing integrity similar to that of sample-based electronics, still manage to keep that darkening noir-like mood hiiden underneath the murmurs of beat and bridge-betweens. Fans of disco will find Dear's prolonged stretch of lyrics the most enveloping of any of this track's components. Even despite the later additions of more bellowed synthesizers and increase of intensity of bass, it's the vocals that sweep through the oily treacle of music covering our ears. 'Overtime' by contrast, is a lot more energetic and quickening in its approach, but still maintains that lower underbelly-of-the-city reemergence. What cements the semantic of this musical visualization is the way Dear appears to meld and mesh himself into the rhythm and texture of the track in its latter part, vocals becoming less clearer but still keeping that low-pitch warmth bubbling on.

It still catches me with some increasingly impacting surprise that by the half-way mark on this album, I'm still as interested and as synchronous - as if my organic limitations of hearing and understanding have become all too abstract and merely metaphoric - with where these sounds lead me. As noted, it would be easy enough to become bored of this type of progression on an album-wide scale, but whatever knob or buttons Dear has decided on focusing on at the mix-desk, there is something quite heartfelt - and thus, charming - about how these purely synthetic and synthetically-treated sounds, transpire. 'Ahead of Myself' - which in itself feels more on par with something personified and analytical rather than simply an expression of free-forming thought. Again its Dear's homage-like lenience to hip-hop and sample-led quirkiness that brings about the most respect on this album. But neither does Dear present himself as a fan nor a follower of these past ideas in musical deliverance. And instead, alongside the track's jumpy beats and wavering electronics, his vocals feel in their approach and in their warmth, far more honest and, for the first time, vulnerable.

That self-aware weakness in individuality is something that we seldom often here in singer-songwriter composites, but Dear wants us to not only hear it, but feel it. 'Do The Right Thing' follows this pattern, stretching the baritone limitation in his vocals to their upmost humbled ends. True, it's not a drastic variation on pitch and dynamics, but alongside the similarly wavering electronics and boney percussion, Dear's once wallowed stature emerges into this glowing honesty of timing and tone. And with 'Temptation', the six-minute extinguisher to Beams' gentle flame, the track is anything but a suggestion this album is purely a slow-burner in content and approach. The electronics here are a lot more multi-directional and surrounding. Like a disco ball, it shines and spreads tinier shards of glowing synths across the soundscape that is, primarily, Dear's vocals which here keep a lot more grounded and crowded against the huddle of swirling synthesizers and fogging effects.

Look at this album's cover for long enough and you will start to understand how relatable it is to both the appliance and the texture of 'Beams'. While I wouldn't classify this album overall as a solely personal and personally-relatable record, it certainly shares the same gentle and often-uncertain approach such sounds can often express to the listener. Matthew Dear, much like this square-cropped portrait of thinning painterly splotches, shares himself to us in both human and non-human honesty of tone. And so too, uses the consistency of his music to help raise this sound from off the darkening of passively-forgotten club floors and into the visible, but murky, air of everyday eyes. The result then, is as much exciting as it is revealing in its simplicity of beats and its [eventual] simplicity of empathy.
~Jordan

8.3

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