The Albums of 2012 (#10): Matthew Dear – Beams (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear's Beams spearheaded the 2012 trend that saw electronic producers embracing classic songwriting and pop music tropes – but what has he got planned for next year?

Feature by Bram E. Gieben | 04 Dec 2012

2012 was the year that dance music and classic songwriting re-engaged – as evidenced by the move towards electronica by veterans such as Liars, as much as the embracing of pop hooks by fledgling acts like Grimes and Purity Ring. As such, it was the perfect year for the return of Ghostly International founder Matthew Dear, who followed up 2010's critically acclaimed, dystopian album Black City with its more upbeat, lounge lizard cousin, Beams.

Dear told us back in August that if Black City was “a black hole,” then Beams was “the back end of a black hole, where all the light is rushing out the other side.” It is an album that is filled with exuberance, along with elliptical, contradictory lyrics which see Dear fully embracing his role as a David Bowie / David Byrne figure for the twenty-first century.

Dear is now on tour with Beams, and thus far, the audiences have been captivated: “People finally seem to have a sense of where to put me on their musical shelf,” he reflects. “The final show of the North American tour at Webster Hall in New York was far and away one of the most important shows of my life. There was an energy in the room I have never felt with an audience before.”

When we last spoke, Dear talked about bringing elements of theatricality to his live show: “I've just asked the band and myself to 'go somewhere' when we're on stage,” he says. The theatricality of the performance is less, rehearsed and planned: “It's more about providing a sense of intensity and urgency up there, as opposed to putting on masks and speaking to skulls,” he explains.

Asked about his songwriting process, Dear says he still leads with the beats and melodies: “Typically, I begin with the music. You can enter a mantric state when working endlessly on loops and sounds all day. Once the music has firmly placed itself in position, I then use the sedated headspace to conjure up a story with lyrics. By the time the words hit the page, I am in a very vulnerable and private headspace that allows for personal reflection into song.” This results in lyrics which are at once confessional, but also frequently oblique and abstract – keeping listeners guessing as to the themes and narratives on Beams.

Hurricane Sandy, which severely affected many citizens in the state of New York, pretty much passed Dear and his colleagues by: “My house in the woods lost power for about a week, and a few large pine trees were uprooted and laid flat on their sides,” he says. Dear is still constructing his home studio: “I've done some work in it, and the machines are up and running. Acoustically though, the walls are still unfinished drywall, so there is still the design element to finish. I plan to finish it in January of 2013.” The Ghostly offices were also thankfully bypassed by the superstorm: “The Ghostly crew were safe, and nothing was damaged,” Dear confirms. “Our hearts go out to those who were less fortunate. Many people lost everything, and could still use help.”

As for Dear, his plans after the current tour remain unchanged – next year will see at least two releases from him, under different aliases: “I am already working on a few songs for the next Matthew Dear album,” he confirms, adding: “I intend to make an Audion album in 2013, and build a live show around it as well.” With the prospect of more of Dear's mercurial songwriting on the horizon, and new material from his more techno-oriented Audion alias, it seems that the celebrated producer and singer is in the midst of a creative renaissance. Coupled with a strong year of releases from Ghostly in 2012, from artists such as Com Truise, Adult., School of Seven Bells and Gold Panda, it looks like Dear's innovative, mercurial fusion of cutting-edge dance music, classic pop and outré showmanship is here to stay.