Beck – Song Reader

An “album” of sheet music. I don’t read sheet music. I listen to actual music.

So, I don’t know, 7 / 10?

? / 10

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Beck – Modern Guilt

This is a big moment for me, as it means I’m almost done listening to Beck for a little while. It’s been a long run…early Beck inspired me to make music, then helped form how I interpret my urban surroundings and thoughts. Then I learned valuable lessons about knowing my place in the world, then I was really sad about girls, then a little less scared about aging, though that absence of fear gets a little fainter every time I obsess over my hairline. And finally we have this album. Basically, what sounds like a short (10 song) collection of outtakes from the last album. Only not quite, because some of them are better than some of the last album’s songs. There are a bunch of hard to place but old-fashioned sounding rock songs, one (surprisingly good) Aphex Twin-like electro-blooze thing, a sub-Kid A soundin’ electronish thing, and a sort of slow, sort of sad closer.

Only one song is actively bad (“Profanity Prayers”), and I’m a big fan of guilt (the modern variety is secondary to bodily guilt for me but at least he’s acknowledging it at all), but there’s also nothing here that turns my crank until it hurts so good. Ten songs. Nothing outstanding. Again feels like decline. I get a sense of what I’m supposed to get out of songs like “Chemtrails,” but it feels far away from what gets delivered. I don’t know, get the title track and pace your apartment singing it and pretend you’re The Modern Lovers.

Most people I know hate going the dentist, but I enjoy it. My teeth feel so shiny that I feel guilty the first time I eat afterwards. Most people I know don’t know anything about Beck, and maybe I like it that way. I guess, even though I didn’t care about this album and feel it’s a merely above-average product of an artist perhaps finally in decline, that anecdote about the dentist (not that it was technically an anecdote) is just my way of saying I love you, and maybe someday we’ll be nonsensically together in heaven, like Shannon and Sayid.

6/10

Beck – Timebomb

95% of all music / writing is crap
Escape from this seems constant – once out often stay out
Catchy, catchy
Couples play chess
But only slightly meaningful (Magnetic Fields reference!)
Silly sounds speak to insecurity
Unspecial but like, you know, hard to argue with
Look – party music!
Really annoying opening sound!
At least we all have cigarettes (ziggurats?).
When I was young my friend wrote “keep the apocalyptic instinct alive,” a line which I have cribbed repeatedly. I was once asked what it meant in an English class in a very awkward, show-up sense by the professor. I told her it was a feeling and she told me it had to be defined exactly. At the end of the year she invited the class to have a drink with her and I refused. Now I know: it means to be uneasy with ourselves.
A quite nice, but unimportant wee single.

8/10

Beck – The Information

Well, I’ll be jiggered! Beck had another good album in him! Not that he necessarily never will again, but it’s charming, I tell you, charming to see an artist do the usual “artist hit 35 or so and starts the inevitable decline” thing and take a leap back from the edge of irrelevance.

This is a long, sprawling album with lots of rapid-fire sequiturs and oddball songs with lots of choppy instruments. It’s far from amusing, and the general subject matter of modern life and technology being sort of disorienting is far from original, but it’s never done in an annoying way. The worst songs (here’s lookin’ at you, “We Dance Alone” and “Cellphone’s Dead”) veer a bit too far towards the last album’s white-boy rap nonsense, but they’re way in the minority. Plus, they fail for trying to do something and not quite making it there, not for sounding like little effort was put into their creation. There’s some bloat, as happens on most long albums, but I’ll take a few extra weird songs (piano-led “Strange Apparitions,” sad, sleepy “New Round,” wheezing keyboarder “Movie Theme”) over not taking they asses every day. He stays on topic in an abstract way (almost always a good idea!), and isn’t afraid to mix things up. Why, the album’s best song is the catchy, Kinks-y shy guy love song “I Think I’m In Love.” Souljacker-ish “Nausea” suits plenty o’ moods quite well too, and it’s also super catchy! Nothing soulbreaking, but there’s plenty here for all to enjoy!

Did you know: when you cross to the North side of Steeles you enjoy the world map, and the stirring overworld music begins to play! But cross again and you enter the town of Toronto, with its one sword shop and cafe that serves milk. But don’t go into PATH unless you want to fight dragons.

8/10

Beck – Guerolito

Here’s my problem with this album, in a question: who gives a shit?

It’s not I. I do not care about a remix album that recreates, song for song, my least favourite Beck album to date. Song for fucking song! They don’t even play with the vocals! Who cares, who cares, WHO CARES?

I care about the new version of “Missing.” It’s nice and filled with tidal keyboards. That’s all. Stop trying to make “Helll Yes” a good song. Your best efforts have only made it clear that you, a 35-year-old man, yell “biatch” halfway through. It’s all sonically interesting, but COMPLETELY unmemorable because it’s a freaking remix album. Agh wargobble flunchnuck, get it gone.

The original song is the cover of Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands,” but it’s all wrong. The lyrics AND the words seem totally different. I’m sitting in my living room drinking rum and listening to Randy Newman, fantasizing about writing a book about an unremarkable man who collapses miserably and goes nowhere. Hey, I might have time this summer. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about my job, but now is no time to start that gobble. The important thing is that you don’t care about this album, decent as it may be. I’m even subtracting a point for gaucheness. DO YOU HEAR ME NOW, NEW ORLEANS?

4/10

Beck – Guero

Seriously, Beck? The follow up to your big emotional tour de force is an Odelay retread? Talk about recidivism! Bah, I say! Seriously, it’s the same thing: usually guitar-led loop-driven sample pop that sounds like the early 90s – but without the neat-o postmodernism that made Odelay fun to listen to! Plus, it’s not the early 90s anymore, so scratching and drum loops now just sound dated. In fact, this whole album sounds dated, and did the moment it came out. It’s dance music that you can’t dance to.

I know I’m being harsh, but is there really anything on here that’s all that good? On third or so listen I’ve come to like the stomp of “Scarecrow” and that loudass lead guitar on “Broken Drum.” Essentially, that’s all I can positively glean from this album of nostalgia for times not that great (except commercially if you are Beck’s manager) that doesn’t even have the courtesy to be weird and have stream of consciousness lyrics. Track one and lead single “E-Pro” is a total rip-off of “Devil’s Haircut,” (and that riff was sampled already from Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything”) “Missing” fails horribly at being sad, “Hell Yes” is absolutely awful with its lazy computer-voice and the very fact that it’s called “Hell Yes,” and “Girl”? A breezy, non-ironic jaunty meh tune about “my summer girl” or perhaps “my sunlight girl”? Bah again!

Furthermore, regarding porn, it’s not violence or degradation that the internetting masses are seeking – it’s submission, something which was impossible to find before the era of amateur porn and even now difficult to locate thanks to the fact that anyone likely to star in their own porn movie and upload it is going to be confident and sexually uninhibited. Most of the “degrading” things I see decried – the exuberant lust for facials, blank expressions, and the enjoyment of performers looking like they don’t want to be doing what they are – it is probably misogynistic in some way, but in a far less troubling way than blogs like Feministing (which I read and enjoy and generally agree with) seem to think. Submission is incredibly sexy, but hard to find in legitimate form, and it is the desire for this genuineness which drives a lot of the porn trolls out there. Aside from all the ones into crazy fetishes – fuck, what is wrong with some of you people? And because you asked, the reason why I don’t think it is indicative of any serious problem in society is that there’s no shortage of submissiveness in real life. Lots and lots of sex involves good times with men getting their little chance to play leader in bed in a consensual, enjoyable manner. It isn’t so in the wacky world of people who want to film themselves fucking where something cute like shyness is not often to be found.

That said, This is a good album for swaggering, but in a pathetic, outdated kind of way. There’s SUCH better swagger music out there that this makes me feel old when I catch myself liking it. While it’s rarely terrible, passable swagger music is very disappointing coming from a lovable scutterbug like Beck. No, you cannot redeem yourself by yelling “James Joyce” in the breakdown of “Que Ondo Guero.”

5/10

Beck – Sea Change

Break-ups suck. Everyone knows it, but it’s rather common to deride them and avoid admitting just how awful they are. Why that is, and in large part why they’re so life-wrenching, is that they’re not something to be taken seriously. They’re something young people go through, not like death or losing your home. Never mind that they feel like losing someone to death and that they can involve sudden homelessness, it’s just not a big deal. Need time off work to do with a loved one’s death? You’ve got it. Time off work to deal with a break up? Riiiiiight, yeah, not happening. But try this fun experiment: have someone you love die and go through a break up in a short period of time. See which one think about more. I’ve tried this before and I can tell you the answer – it’s the person you formerly spent half your life around. The body you will never explore again, the secrets you told in vain, the feeling that you weren’t alone that you’ll now have to face every morning. It’s heart-piercingly brutal; you’ve had your guts ripped out and you’re supposed to do what? Drink a bottle of wine and go to work the next day as if nothing happened, that’s what. Ha. Ha ha. That’s rich. Plus you’re now whiny and emo for caring. At one of the most dramatic instances in your life you’re instructed not to get dramatic.

Be prepared for a sea of annoying platitudes. Plenty of fish in the sea! Everything happens for a reason! He didn’t deserve you anyway! The world will go on spinning with you and your million and one regrets, and no, you will not get over it. Like death, nobody completely gets over anybody unless they suffer severe head trauma. And don’t try doing it on purpose; you’ll end up with Wernicke’s Aphasia and stop forming syntactically meaningful sentences. It’d be unfortunate.

This is a break-up album, and if there’s one good thing about break-ups, it’s that they’re particularly well suited to music. There’s approximately eighty million break-up albums out there, and at least a few of them are good. The good ones tap into specific emotional aspects of the whole ordeal. “You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine” does sexualized anger. “Blood on the Tracks” is mournful. Most good DCFC songs are about nostalgia and regret. This is a good break-up album. It focuses on one of my favourite aspects of the break-up: the resignation to the fact of the world’s continued turning. It’s a joke, and you know it, but you don’t feel like laughing. Gotta get through it; gotta go to work the next morning, can’t bore your friends all day, can’t spend the three necessary hours to phrase that email (and you’ll just sound desperate anyway). Nothing to be done. Christ, even the song titles! “Paper Tiger”? “Guess I’m Doing Fine”? “Lost Cause”? “Already Dead”? “All In Your Mind”? GAH! Here are a few lyrics on that fun times theme:

“It’s only lies that I’m living / It’s only tears that I cry / It’s only you that I’m losing / Guess I’m doing fine” or “Yellow roses in the graveyard / Got no time to watch them grow” from “Guess I’m Doing Fine.

“We don’t have to worry / Life goes where it does” from “Round the Bend.”

“I’ve seen the end of the day come too soon / Not a lot to say, not a lot to do / You played the game, you owe nothing to yourself” from “End of the Day”

“It’s all in your mind / It’s all in your mind / It’s all in your mind.”

“But I know you’re going to try / To live without love / But that’s not living, that’s just time / Going by” from bonus track “Ship in a Bottle.”

Yep, someone feels dead inside – the other theme here. Trying to pick your head up and finding it barely possible, but feeling even worse for being able to do so at all.

Musically? It’s sort of like “Mutations” with constant sadness. Mostly acoustic guitar-led, slow songs, with some embellishment but it’s certainly not “lush.” There are some strings, but they tend to be experimental (on “Paper Tiger,” which has fantastic lyrics all around) or backgroundy (“Round the Bend”). The only real dramatics are on “Lonesome Tears,” but what the fuck did you expect – it’s called “Lonesome Tears.” If you can get past it you can handle the string section being dramatic for five minutes and thirty-six seconds. Vocally, Beck’s progreria of the heart has also aged his voice about twenty years, so he sounds much more like a sad old man, but who better to sing things, innit?

The accessible songs are “Golden Age” and “Lost Cause.” The best songs are “Guess I’m Doing Fine” and “End of the Day.” The only stumble is “Sunday Sun,” which sounds vaguely faux-Indian, enough to ruin the mood. And the coda of “Little One” goes on for far too long – almost as long as the song itself, for no reason.

Resignation! Dead insideness! Lack of catharsis! I haven’t had a relationship end in a long time, but in those inevitable sad times…

This is a lovely album.

9/10