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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Sea Change

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
In the early 90's, when grunge was shifting between it's first and second waves of dominance, a lanky white-boy with scruffy blond hair dressed up like the long lost Beastie Boy came along with his battered suitcase full of musical tricks and a listless slacker attitude that made him just right for the times. This genre-crossing lad, who somehow melded hip-hop, folk, and rock (not to mention a leaf blower, from time to time) into one tasty treat, served up a self-loathing lament, claming that he's just some loser, an unimportant lump on rock and roll's log, and that you should just simply kill him. But we all knew deep down inside that Beck was just too good, too cool, and too untouchable for us to actually believe his so-called "outsider" status. With his following major label output, the gleaming mish-mash of Odelay, the skewed folk of Mutations, and the all out funkdified party pop of Midnight Vultures, Beck's emotional shell became increasingly harder to crack. It's hard to get at the soul of a man famous for lines like "Automatic bzooty/Zero to tutti fruitti," and "Mission incredible/undercover convoy/ Full-tilt chromosome cowboy/X-ray search and destroy/Smokestack blacktop novacane boy."

But now, as Beck even says himself, his proverbial golden age has begun with Sea Change, a heartfelt, melancholy, and truly personal offering, giving all of us reason to believe that our pseudo-loser has actually lost more than his recorded output has let on.

Aided by Radiohead production whiz Nigel Godrich and a list of accomplished collaborators including super session drummer Joey Waronkner and super pop hero Jason Falkner, Beck has gone back to the folk roots first seen on his 4-track masterpiece One Foot in the Grave, and of course later explored on Mutations. But where these records simply continued in Beck's tradition of hodgepodge and seemingly nonsensical lyrics, Sea Change explores a straight-ahead approach dripping with an emotional element he has yet to touch: sadness. Think of Sea Change as the helter-skelter morning after Midnight Vultures' sexed up romp, where at the end of the night your hot girlfriend (ahem, Winona) breaks up with you in front of all your friends for something you didn't even do.

The ability Beck has to draw you in with familiar and unfamiliar lyrical and musical arrangements is uncanny on Sea Change. At points, like on "Side of the Road," a line like "In a random room/Behind an iron door/Kick an empty can/Across an empty floor," could fit perfectly on a freaky Stevie Wonder on crack jam from Midnight Vultures, but the way in which it's presented as some lost Nick Drake classic, it works like a charm. On other tracks, like "The Golden Age," Beck muses, "These day I barely get by/I don't even try," and shows an unfamiliar and invulnerable side of himself that fans have rarely seen before, shrouded in by a Wilco meets Nebraska-era Springsteen backdrop. Hints of recent collaborators Air, Elton John circa Madman Across the Water, and Graham Parsons all show up to complete Beck's floaty master work, tying up all the loose knots left over from Mutations and it's slightly off kilter inclusions ("Tropacalia" anyone?).

Listening to Sea Change, you can really feel Beck's heart breaking, millions and millions of times over. And the sound hurts. But, in a way it's a good hurt. The kind of hurt you need every once in awhile. A hurt that motivates you to say to yourself, "You know, it's time to start over. It's time for a change."

Reviewed by Ryan Allen
A former staff writer with fabulous hair, Ryan Allen once fronted Red Shirt Brigade with his brother, Scott. He currently fronts the art/fashion punk band Thunderbirds Are Now!, with is brother, Scott.

See other reviews by Ryan Allen



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