Matthew Dear's dissonant 2010 album, Black City, had both dark ambiance and peppy flourish. On that album, Dear was like Stephin Merritt's distant cousin, clinically depressed, but much healthier in dealing with it. Beams feels like Dear switched his medication, and the new stuff has him buzzing all over the place. Mostly, the upshift in tempo makes for a tackier album.
Opening song "Her Fantasy" treats us to a barrage of squeaks, whistles and monkey howls, sounding like some lost track from the B-52s' (truly terrible) Good Stuff (though that record gets props for having a title song about spooge). "Her Fantasy" isn't a bad song; it's just sort of gaudy and boring. More upsetting are the backing vocalizations on "Fighting Is Futile," which sound like some island cruise a cappella nightmare.
Beams has its moments. "Earthforms" gets things exactly right—the expressive, gothy bass line, the patina of ambient noise, the catchy vocal hook. "Get the Rhyme Right" is another highlight. When Dear tells you to "ghost whisper into (his) ear," it's electric.
Dear is a compelling musician, a froggy-voiced, Eno-inspired experimentalist who, at his best, is seductive and exciting. But Beams proves he's sexier (and more fun) when he's moping. The Dear on Black City could get you into bed in a heartbeat; the one on Beams might help you win at a game of charades, but there's no way in hell he's getting in your pants.