The international man of mystery has returned to the music scene. No, not Austin Powers … Beck is back. If you can remember the kooky days of "Odelay," and if you just recently were enlightened with Beck's somber and melancholy smash, "Sea Change," you will be happy to know that his new album, "Guero," is a fine and seamless mix of the past two albums.
"Odelay" was a smash album that had its success based around mystery and funk, and "Sea Change," with its sad and sorrowful tone, found its success because Beck surprised fans and new listeners by revealing a vulnerable and sensitive acoustic side.
On "Guero" Beck shows that even as a Caucasian guy, he can grasp firmly onto Latin and Spanish grooves (the songs "Que Onda Guero" and "Earthquake Weather") and urban hip-hop and '70s funk vibes, (the songs "Hell Yes" and "Got It Alone").
As Beck's eighth album, it is probably his finest work. He has held on to the deviant and youthful fun of his first albums and mixed up his expected funk, but it is also clear that the despair from his last album has established a permanent residence in his heart and music. The Dust Brothers are on the majority of the tracks and help boost this album's bumpiness.
Underneath all the fun and funk are some seriously forlorn lyrics. "Broken Drum" has a heavy, outer-space drum in the back of soft minor keys of a piano and would have fit perfectly on "Sea Change," but it sounds like it was written in retrospect to Beck's heart breaking: "One by one/we'll shoot our guns/we'll have our fun/doubt ever doubt it … your setting sun/your broken drum/your little drugs/I'll never forget you." "Black Tambourine" has some mad hip-hop grooves, and however groovy the song "Scarecrow" sounds, it's structured like a graveyard: "I wanted hope from a grave/I wanted strength from a slave/crows are pulling at my clothes/the wind got my fingers froze/standing all day keepin' watch/over all the lost treasures we lost." "E-Pro" opens the album with a hard-hitting, rock-hop jam, and "Rental Car" continues the heavy rock sounding like a fine '70s export, survived through a Playstation's speakers. "Emergency Exit" closes the album with some slide/acoustic guitar that'll be a nice song to play on your porch on warm days.
"Guero" shows that Beck's future will be set in the gray area between folk/funk and rock/hip-hop, which is a genre that will be hard to duplicate by other musicians who find inspiration in Beck's music. Definitely buy this one, whether you're a fan or not. This will be a nice companion in the coming months of rain and sunshine.
The Shins, "Chutes Too Narrow"
Although this Shins album was originally released in 2003, it was chosen for review because of the Albuquerque quartet's recent success and credibility on the "Garden State" soundtrack. The Shins have been reveling in the Indie scene for quite some time, and with Zach Braff's choice of two of their newer songs on the soundtrack for his New Jersey-based movie it is worthwhile to look into this band's music.
Described as Baroque pop, it is easy to hear the band's British influence. The singer has no problem keeping his voice in the high-note range, and the mysterious guitar sounds are well crafted and borderline progressive. It's hard to believe that this band is from New Mexico because it sound seems birthed from the ocean.
Strange titles such as "Kissing The Lipless," "Pink Bullets" and "Fighting In A Sack" all help this melodic beach quartet keep its mystery hidden. The lyrics are intelligent, although the smart craft of the words is slightly underneath the band's strangeness and light-hearted approach toward coaxing their audience. The songs on "Chutes" are definitely a little bit under construction, but the craftsmanship of its Garden State contribution shows that the band is just getting started.
If you enjoyed the soundtrack to Zach Braff's satirical movie, or simply enjoy the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the acoustic Who songs or find particular interest in bands that keep their angst out of their sound, then you will enjoy this album. In the meantime, don't rush out to get this one, but rather wait for a new album to take shape.