Matthew Dear has always been a producer first, DJ second, and songwriter third. I'm not sure if he would agree with this assessment, but it's not unreasonable. Birthed under the tutelage of the Detroit techno gods, his productions have run the gamut of electronic genres — from spatial bleep-laden slow-burners to canonical big-room anthems — culminating in 2010's swirling masterpiece, Black City. In the past, he's occasionally used his singing voice on records, generally as a complementary tool, layering his oft-incomprehensible lyrics over his more playful fare. Beams marks a transition, though: the vocals are no longer an afterthought. Nearly every track here fits a verse-chorus-verse structure, and while much of the meaning behind his lyrics is still a chore to decipher through his chiseled growl, he has arrived at his closest approximation of a pop record to date. Sure, his unparalleled technique of building sound throughout a track to the brink of complete mania is still on full display — nowhere moreso than on opener "Her Fantasy," where he ratchets the bells and whistles (literally) with each passing bar. But it's the album's more subdued tail end, particularly "Ahead of Myself" and "Temptation," that shows a songwriter rising above his comfort zone to deliver a career-defining transition.