If we were, in 2003, to place bets on where nine years would take Matthew Dear, few if any of us would put money on the minimal techno producer putting out the best disco song of any summer. But here we are in 2012 with "Her Fantasy" ringing out as a perfectly evolved amalgamation of the better parts of the '70s. David Bowie swagger, Kraftwerk bleeps and blips, and a Donna Summer sex drive crash together into a surprisingly probing anthem--the kind that makes you dance wildly while diving into your thoughts. "Do I feel love like all of the others, or is this feeling only mine?" ponders Dear as disembodied syllables bicker in the background.
As an artist who cites Brian Eno as a primary influence, Dear appears to have echoed his model's musical trajectory in reverse. While Eno grew out of glam rock to contribute to the dawn of ambient electronica, Dear moved from the technical matrices of IDM into something that could be called electronically-enhanced glam. But though Beams takes a sharper turn toward disco from 2010's acclaimed Black City, Dear is still primarily a beatmaker. His latest effort crawls with the cartoon jungles that distinguish his work from the masses of pop-slanted electronica. And while Beams might lack that certain unhinged grit that powered Black City, there's no shortage of personality within its tracks.
If Black City was the sound of sex and sadness grinding together in a gleaming obsidian machine, then Beams emerges from a more stable foundation. The title's resonance is twofold: "beams" could refer either to architectural supports or to rays of light. Solidity and luminosity exist at once within the word. As for the record, it's plenty solid, but its luminous moments aren't as abundant as we might have hoped. In writing from a stabler place, Dear seems to have shed some of the layers of complexity and quirk that characterized previous releases, leaving us with a flatter, blunter sound.
But it's not entirely fair to criticize an artist for failing to top his best record. While it may be hard not to yearn a little for the dark crescendo of Black City's "Slowdance" or its glisteningly sexual "You Put A Smell On Me," Beams holds its own within the Dear catalog. When the rays emerge, they shine bright--in the soaring "Her Fantasy," in the steady, feel-good "Do The Right Thing." Moments of lyrical brilliance offset stretches of obnoxious repetition, sometimes within the same song ("Ahead of Myself"). Uneasy citric beats swarm around sturdy, insistent basslines--more than anything, Beams achieves balance. It's not divisive, but that's because it's also not especially dynamic. It's the kind of calm, easy record you use to fill the late summer air.
While Beams may not surpass Black City, it stands as a solid addition to a dud-free discography. Matthew Dear continues to occupy an exciting spot on the contemporary music grid; those who are still smarting over James Murphy's retirement might do well to turn to Dear to fill that neo-disco void. And God knows if you're not blasting "Her Fantasy" for the rest of the summer you're doing something wrong with your life.