Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beck - Modern Guilt (2008)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

Beck's albums have always, for the most part, been scattershot collages; stream-of-consciousness constructs of messy finger-painting in which the artist chooses to completely ignore any boundaries between genres. But with Danger Doom by his side, his wild attitude is quieted down, and while the result is a more homogenic demeanor, it also has led to his most focused album in years. On Modern Guilt, Beck's style is more akin to hard-edged abstract art. If albums like Odelay, Midnite Vultures, Guero and The Information were wildly flailing expressionist pieces, his latest is geometric, controlled, clean and cut at the edges, with an ultimately sharper bite. The condensed rocket-pop song, "Gamma Ray" is proof enough, but there's also the mechanical funk of "Youthless," the metallic boiler-room grind of "Soul of a Man", the glitchy "Replica" and "Walls", which is all woozy strings and post-modern swagger. Only tracks like "Profanity Prayers" and "Orphans" feature a bit of Beck's old, more loose style of genre hopping with acoustic guitar features, but they're handled with such sterility and so many electronic textures, that the songs feel unlike anything else in Beck's discography (except maybe the more spaced out tendencies of Mutations, which to many, will be a good thing). Admittedly, by adopting these new sounds, Beck has certainly began to sound more 'normal' and some of these tracks just don't have enough character (especially "Volcano"). But then again, a track as amazing as "Chemtrails" suggests that maybe this change was for the best. The ghostly piano-led ballad, blown up by rigid careening drums, is the early centerpiece of the album and the main argument for a more subtle, stripped down Beck. A year or two ago, these songs would be the same-old loosely held together extensions of his "anything goes" personality, something that has almost become more of a gimmick than a vehicle for good songwriting. With Danger Doom's help though, they're tightly constructed for maximum effect, and so even though Modern Guilt will probably be looked back on as a transitional album, it's high points have opened the door and paved the path of growth for Beck's future.

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