Next week, sonic journeyman Beck’s latest album Modern Guilt hits stores, actual and virtual. Last night, the VH1 blog was lucky enough to get a listen, and we learned a few things. Though he might be one of the coolest, most talented individuals making music, he’s still worried about the same things we are. Social anxiety, questions of the soul and our current position in world affairs play over heavily ‘60s-influenced rock and producer Danger Mouse’s (Gnarls Barkley) beats. Check out our impressions of Beck’s latest. Listen to Beck on Rhapsody.
1. Orphans Beck opens this track with some spooky guitars sliding over an unmistakably ‘60s beat. The drumbeat, while largely atmospheric, drives the song into a resolving freak-out, with Cat Power’s Chan Marshall cooing a la Jane Birkin. The song mixes ponying ‘60s rock with contemporary production for an effect bigger than the Wall of Sound.
2. Gamma Ray Consider this Beck’s green version of Beach Boys fare like “Little Deuce Coup.” Whereas Beck wondered about lost souls and orphans on the first track, in this one, it’s a concern for the environment. He talks about his Chevrolet Terraplane over surf-shangri-la guitars and harmonies. Before we hit the end though, Beck brings us back to modern day with tons of glitchy, unplaceable noises that remind us we’re in this century.
3. Chemtrails Sounds like Beck’s been listening to Radiohead. Mournful organs keen and reverbed vocals echo as Beck stays in the upper registers, singing about oceans of dead people and government conspiracies.
4. Modern Guilt The track that shares its name with the album title is also one of its best. Beck bounces on this seemingly upbeat piano track, but under vocal fuzziness he’s discussing alienation and, well, modern guilt. Overall, the piano’s jauntiness is muffled and the beats are synthetic, which works well with the themes of song.
5. Youthless Snaps, claps and a muffled guitar begin and end this song. Unlike the production on anything prior to Midnight Vultures, Beck seems to prefer his voice loaded up with effect. “They tried to turn emotion into noise” Beck sings, which is what Beck’s doing in reverse in this song.
6. Walls The clarity of the synth line (it’s only eight notes) winds it’s way around Beck’s vocals, which might be the most emotional set on the album. Beck gets soulful on this track, asking “Some days we’re worse than you can imagine/And how am I supposed to live with that?” With more vocal support from Cat Power.
7. Replica The most off-kilter, crunchiest song on the record, seems to suggest Beck was visiting another era in between all the beach-blanket-bingo of “Gamma Ray” and “Orphans.” Speedy beats devolve into whirling, whizzing noises, and a cacophony of non-verbal sounds ends the track.
8. Soul Of A Man Sounding slightly White Stripes-ian, Beck finally gets out his guitar and rocks with a stomping, rocking tune about what comprises the soul of a man.
9. Profanity Prayers Thick guitars squawk over Danger Mouse-produced beats as Beck questions who’ll answer his profanity prayers. The track sounds slightly ‘80s, with uneven claps backing up the beats.
10. Volcano A slow-burning, sexy tune features a choir of Beck’s ‘ahhhhh-ing’ as he pronounces he’s tired of evil, then tells the story of a Japanese girl who throws herself into a volcano. It’s the least interfered with song on the album, with a minimum of glitchiness, and possibly one of his best.