Having survived the harrowing phase of the Kubler-Ross grieving process — otherwise known as the musical suicide note, Sea Change — Mr. Beck Hanson appears to be himself again judging by Guero, his latest release.
Or to be more accurate, Beck appears to be all of his various selves again, and therein is the rub — no new ground is broken here, a first for a Beck. Over his decade-plus career, he has adopted a host of music styles — trip-hopper, retro rocker, dance king, Latin smoothie, cowboy, broken-hearted dumpee — with envy-producing facility, so the lack of a new Beck inevitably brings with it some sense of disappointment. Probing the eclectic musician's psychic state is practically sport at this point precisely because he has been a musical chameleon. Change or die has been the subtext, and that gives Guero the feeling of a career retrospective holding pattern — albeit an enjoyable one overall
Beck is reunited with the Dust Brothers, and programmed beats and song samples once again populate his work: Slave, the Temptations, Love Unlimited, the Ohio Players and Brazilian Composer Vin'cius de Moraes are among a host of samplees. The opener, "E-Pro," includes a snippet "So What'cha Want" from fellow travelers the Beastie Boys and is constructed around a thick, distorted guitar loop, setting familiar surroundings from the outset by recalling "Devil's Haircut" from Odelay. Elsewhere, turntable scratches and twangy guitar lines recall both Odelay and Mutations, especially in "Earthquake Weather" and "Farewell Ride." "Girl" evolves into a hand-clapping summer pop tune worthy of Midnite Vulture's "Get Real Paid," and the rap from "Hell Yes" seems a mirror image of "Where It's At." And lest we forget the sorrowful character from Sea Change, Guero's best song, the dirgy "Broken Drum," shares that fundamental sadness, as does "Missing," albeit employing a slinky Brazilian beat to get there.
That Beck hasn't come up with another musical personality should disappoint the faithful, since that is a big part of why we listen to him in the first place. But he seems to be enjoying himself again, and that imbues Guero with just enough enthusiasm to be called infectious.
Track to burn: "Broken Drum"
Moody indie rock with a warm, enveloping, slightly British melodicism, The National's third album concentrates their strengths and delivers a solid start-to-finish album. Singer Matt Berninger's carmely baritone drips over sophisticated pop arrangements with cool reserve conjuring frequent echoes of artists such as Nick Cave and The Tindersticks, or in their brighter, swirling pop moments, Dream Academy and The Church. This tension between somber chamber pop and airier bits of Brit-inflected jangle gives the album a dynamic energy.
Of the former, there is the cello-driven, chamber goth of "Val Jester," "Geese of Beverly Road," which is soaked in enough wistful romanticism to make Belle & Sebastian wince, and the smoky, album-opening cocktail pop of "Secret Making," in which Berninger (sounding very like old Morphine) asks, "Hasn't anybody told how to gracefully disappear in a room?" On the other side of the spectrum are "Looking For Astronauts," whose dream pop swirl has a rustic twang, the stunning "Baby, We'll Be Fine," which channels a poppier Red House Painters by dark dulcet tone way of the Bad Seeds, and "All the Wine," the best song on the album. A meditation on our mixed blessings, it builds with a hopeful, soaring jangle like The Wedding Present's answer to Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien Blues."
Track to burn: "All the Wine"
You Mean You've Never Listened to 21st Century A.D.D. Electro Cinematic Avant-Disco? It's this kind of elucidation that is common from Of Montreal front man Kevin Barnes. No stranger to strangeness, this offspring of the infamous Elephant 6 collective has just released his newest effort, The Sunlandic Twins, just in time for summer. With over a dozen releases under their belts, Of Montreal has finally found their accessible niche with this exuberant and multifarious album.
While every review you read will toss out Sgt. Peppers or Pet Sounds references, let's face it, nary a single Elephant 6 related band has ever escaped this over-easy generalization. To call this album a throwback to the Beatles or the Beach Boys is to call your Mother a throwback to your Grandmother; it's just too easy and inadequate. The album has many noteworthy songs, but the obvious single is "So Begins Our Alabee," a song written about Kevin's newborn baby. The songs create multifarious scenes from sunlit simplicity to purgatorial gloom. It will appeal to your indie sensibilities as well as your girlfriend's booty. You might even wear out your repeat button.
Track to burn: "Oslo In Summertime"