Beams continues the divergent course started by Matthew Dear's last two albums. His approach to musical production (seemingly try anything once) and his lyrical stream-of-consciousness style calls to mind Brian Eno's warm and complex electronic experiments.
Compared to Black City this feels like an even more experimental album. Where the last album was knitted together in Dear's exploration of a defined concept - nighttime urban sprawl and adventures within it - Beams is defined by no such boundaries. Each track feels like it is of its own moment, born solely through Dear's requirement to create.
The album opens with the dense and progressive 'Her Fantasy' and it immediately feels like a transformation - more complex, uplifting and intense than anything we have heard from Dear before. Each track inhabits its own, so on the other end of the spectrum is 'Shake Me', a cavernous, introspective song with slow, layered drum beats and partially obscured piano.
It isn't just the music that shifts on this record either. Where Black City's lyrics were autobiographical through a lens of the creator's own construction - see the twisted dark heart of 'You Put A Smell On Me' - Beams is true stream of consciousness stuff. At times it is as though feelings were felt and immediately laid down in vocal form without passing through consciousness.
There are slightly more coherent moments - 'Fighting Is Futile' is a documentary of Dear's own (hell, everyone's?) tendency to fall head over heels with a single other person at the expense of anything else. But on 'Headcage' pinning any meaning down seems impossible, just fragments of ideas ("I don't want a new life", ”Your momma won't care if you stay out tonight") that seem to praise some hedonistic ideal.
Matthew Dear's music has never been about lyrical depth, though one suspects there is a significant cryptic meaning behind much of what is here, so the opaque nature of the lyrics isn't a significant barrier to enjoyment. Beams sustains most of the disparate themes thrown at it without letting the listener question too much. The only downside is that there is nothing quite as transparent and touching as Black City's 'Gem' or Asa Breed's 'Don & Sherri'.
Ultimately Dear as a music maker is as strong as ever - the chugging rock rhythms and distorted vocal chorus of 'Earthforms' and the complex drum patterns and creative sample based melodies of 'Ahead of Myself' showcase some of his best work. Fans of electronic music have much here to love and Matthew Dear remains an captivating inventor of sound.