The track, Uneventful Days, is available via:
16th October, 2019
The album, Hyperspace, is available from 22nd November, 2019. Pre-order here:
THERE is never any telling where an artist like Beck…
PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Hapak
will head when it comes to his music. We will receive his album, Hyperspace, on 22nd November but, before then, he has released two tracks – I am reviewing Uneventful Days; the other is Hyperlife. I am looking forward to Beck’s fourteenth studio album. I will discuss a few things in this review. Included will be the maverick and restless nature of Beck; working with renowned producers and how they can bring something fresh to the party; collaborators and how, even though it distracts from a singularity, there is an interesting point Beck raises; the endurance and legacy of the Los Angeles-born artist and where he might head from here. Before I get there, I want to bring in a bit of a personal story…a couple in fact. I think it is interesting how Beck transforms and moves between albums. 2017’s Colors was a bit of a departure from the more introspective and dreamy albums Beck was producing before then. Colors brought, well, a sense of colour and brightness back; it seems Hyperspace will be a balance of a record like Sea Change (2002); some shades of The Information (2006) and some slight touches of Guero (2005). That last album, in fact, was one that awoke me when it was released but has provided great comfort and guidance since. I think one could apply that to a lot of Beck albums; how he can ‘speak’ to people or open their minds. I bow down to the majesty of Odelay (1996) and Midnite Vuiltures (1999), but there was something about Guero that really struck me. I could hear the passion in the album and something I had not experienced before. Having graduated the year before, 2005 was a year when I was a little directionless and scared. I was not sure where my life was going, and I was looking for structure. I cannot attribute Guero for completely transforming my life, but I was sparked and infused by this kaleidoscopic, bold and heartfelt album that mixed Hispanic and Latin sounds with so many other genres. I was well aware of Beck’s cannon pre-2005, naturally, but Guero was a shot in the arm.
The beauty and rawness sitting beside one another; how the album made me feel (and still does) and the way it moved me. Not long after the album arrived, I started taking up journalism and thinking about it. Although I did not launch my blog until 2011, I began plotting and becoming more immersed in what I could do as a writer. Up until then, I had been interested by journalism and the chance to assess albums and talk about various sides to music. After Beck’s Guero came to me, I was even more motivated to pursue that path, as (that album) was so different and remarkable. Even though Guero is not seen, by many critics, as one of his best, it is my favourite. I am now charged with looking at his current offering, yet I felt it was important explaining my love of Beck and why a particular album resonated. I shall move on in a minute but, before I do, I wanted to stay on the subject of Guero and apply it to the rest of Beck’s catalogue. There are so few artists who can change colours like a chameleon; to inhabit a new sonic world so authoritatively and sublimely. Look at all of Beck’s albums and you’d be hard-pressed to compare them. Guero was a moment when I was given drive and momentum; when I looked back at Beck’s music with new insight and got more heavily involved with the true depths of the music industry. It might sound weird saying an album can do that; it owes a lot to Beck’s curiosity and ambition – which I shall expand on more later. If you are relatively new to Beck or dip in and out of his work, I would recommend you have a listen to his albums, and I guarantee there will be plenty that will affect and move you. I guess my love of Beck stems from his inability to stand still and the sheer variety he gives to us. That sonic hunger and desire makes him one of the most surprising and inspiring artists in the world.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Dukoff
Even before Odelay arrived in 1996, Beck was experimenting and stepping into new territory. I love 1994’s Mellow Gold; the intriguing and excellent One Foot in the Grave (1994) and how Beck was always moving forward and not willing to be tied down. I want to bring in a couple of interviews that concern Beck’s past and present work. To start, I will source from a Los Angeles Magazine interview from 2017 that raises an interesting point: Beck’s work can be divided into a couple of camps: the vivacious and freewheelin’ and the more collected and structured:
“One could roughly divide your albums into two piles: loud/fun/upbeat/digital and quiet/serious/downcast/analog. Which feels better to let loose into the world?
It’s strange because the way the world receives it is rarely how you intend it, and so be it. But it is satisfying when people get what you’re trying to do. Morning Phase was a rare thing. If I put that record out 20 years ago, people would be like, “Oh, this is too slow. This feels too pretty.” It came at a time when people were in the same place, ready to have the same conversation. There’s always a sense of “I don’t know if this is gonna connect,” but I’ve done it long enough to know, even if it falls flat and nobody likes it, there will be a point when people are ready for it.
In a way that’s been your role the entire time. You arrived smack-dab between the manly arts of grunge and rap-rock, in all of your lanky, dancing, kazoo-blowing dweebiness. Did you feel the odd man out at festivals or awards shows?
Yeah, I was the white part of the Oreo. My whole first decade and a half was confrontation—people in the front with middle fingers at me for the entire show, booing and throwing things. Going to Lollapalooza and nobody’s clapping when I play “The New Pollution.” It was years and years of the audience laughing at me. And journalists saying, “Well, you don’t really write songs. This isn’t really music per se. It’s more like a concept, right?”
I wasn’t in the club. So this was happening, and then it was me and Radiohead and Björk and a couple of others exploring the idea that it doesn’t have to be guitar, bass, and drums; we can expand the palette—the idea of what music is or isn’t. That was maybe inspired by jazz and classical and hip-hop. It’s been sweet the last five or ten years watching the opening up of what’s acceptable in alternative music and even pop. Like, “Damn, I don’t need to try to fit in. I can just do what I do”.
It can be hard switching gears and directions and keep focused and relatable. There are artists who throw new stuff into the mix with every album and it can sound rather cluttered and scattershot. Beck has such command and does not want to be this artist who repeats himself or chucks everything into the blender for the sake of it. Instead, each album has that sense of craft and meaning. I love both of his sides, and I think it is unusual seeing an artist produce an emotional and more personal album at once, moving to a big and outward-looking album the next! It is testament to his inventiveness and commitment that means Beck always keeps us guessing; never predictable and always stunning. The interviewer for Los Angeles Magazine asked Beck about his sonic curiosity:
“One thing your fans value about your body of work is its unpredictability. When you look back at 25 years of music, what fuels your sonic restlessness?
There’s a period of time when bands do their records that are relevant or necessary. I’ve always wondered, “Is there a point where you stop?” But on tour, seeds are constantly getting planted, influencing the next album. You’re engineering this thing that’s very difficult to put your hands on: resonances and vibrations of air, pieces of sound. It’s this beautifully maddening experiment of trying to translate this feeling you have about how you want to connect with people in the real world. Sometimes you get 20 percent there, or 50 percent. I’ve been lucky to get all the way there a few times—to that place where people let go of their niceties, of their default personality and the way they conduct themselves in life, and all of a sudden they’re just in a field somewhere yelling, “Fuck yeah!”
PHOTO CREDIT: Amy Harris/Invision/AP-REX/Shutterstock
Beck has always had a hand in producing his albums. The music is his visions, so one would expect Beck to be a big part of the final product. I see artists who hook up with renowned producers and you get the sense they do this because they want to be seen as cool or relevant. Some do it because they know that producer will add something necessary to the music; something that pushes it forward. One example that springs to mind is Madonna hiring Nile Rodgers to produce Like a Virgin (1984). One can look at what he brought to the table and how it helped bring Madonna’s work to a new level; gave her fresh impetus and motivation. Beck worked with Nigel Godrich for Sea Change in 2002. As the name implies, Sea Change was a very different beast to 1999’s Midnite Vultures. On that album, Beck worked with The Dust Brothers (who produced Guero) and they helped bring Beck’s fevered and exciting songs to life. Sea Change would have sounded very different if Beck had produced it or drafted in another producer. In this case, Beck had seen the work Godrich was producing for the likes of Radiohead – Kid A was released in 2000 – and knew that he (Godrich) would take his music to the next phase. Godrich added something essential to Beck’s work and provided him fresh ears and eyes. In the case of Colors, Beck worked with Greg Kurstin. You can see who Kurstin has produced for - but I think his reputation and expertise, again, helped Beck stay relevant and progressive. Colors is as bright as Odelay but is not the same in terms of sound and lyrical themes. One can argue another producer would have done a good job, but I think Kurstin’s sheer experience and range was essential when it came to helming an album like Colors. Again, when it came to a big-name producer to help give the music new lease and personality, Beck recruited Pharrell Williams.
There are a few producers who helped bring Hyperspace to life; Pharrell is someone Beck always wanted to work with and, as he explained to NME recently, the results speak for themselves:
“‘Hyperspace’ – which Beck teased last week in a cryptic Instagram post – comes two years after his last record, 2017’s Grammy award-winning ‘Colors’. The album is due out November 22 via Capitol Records. Seven of the album’s 11 tracks, including the previously released ‘Saw Lightning’ and the new single ‘Uneventful Days’, were co-written and co-produced by Pharrell.
“I’d always wanted to make a record with him,” Beck told NME. “We had been friendly over the years and had got together and talked about making some music back in 2012, but around that time he ended up putting out a song with Daft Punk, then ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Happy’.”
“I was not expecting the songs to come out how they did. I was going in thinking of songs like ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, y’know?” Beck said of working with Pharrell. “He felt very strongly that spending a little time with me, that ‘You need to be doing singer-songwriter type of songs’. So that was more of the direction we went in”.
As I said…I think there are big artists who hire these iconic producers because they just want the hype and feel like it will make their music more popular. In Beck’s case, he is looking around and seeing who can elevate his music and give it new spin. I am interested to see what Hyperspace sounds like and whether the two new tracks are representative of the rest of the material. One cannot find much common ground between Colors’ sound and what we can hear on a song like Uneventful Days. One can credit this originality and shape-shifting to producers, but Beck’s savviness and restlessness is a big part of the equation. I want to move on to a new point; one I had not really considered before today when it comes to collaborators on an album.
It is clear that Beck has created this legacy and is one of the most fascinating artists ever to grace music. He has released this incredibly busy and different albums that have so much feeling and brilliance. Whilst Beck works with other producers and musicians, there are few other voices on his albums. Even the biggest artists combine with others to add something to their songs. We live in a time when there are so many needless collaborations; artists packed into a song and, really, it adds nothing at all. I do not like cluttered songs where there is this feeling that people are on the track just to boost their profiles. Beck has always seemed quite singular and solo when it comes to the vocals; making sure his voice is the one guiding the music. Even though there are other people in the studio with him, he does not get to collaborate and welcome other artists in. It seems that, on his latest album, he has brought some friends into the ring. I want to return to the NME article; they explain more about the more collaborative nature of Hyperspace:
‘Hyperspace’ is also one of Beck’s most collaborative efforts to date. Guests to look out for include Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who provides back-up on ‘Stratosphere’, and Sky Ferreira, who sings backing vocals on ‘Die Waiting’. A few days ago, Martin joined Beck onstage for a rendition of his 1994 hit, ‘Loser’.
Colors’ producer Greg Kurstin co-wrote and -produced ‘See Through’, while Adele collaborator Paul Epworth worked on ‘Star’. The title track ‘Hyperspace’ features guest vocals from newcomer Terrell Hines.
“A lot of my albums, there aren’t many guests,” Beck told NME. “I have memories about albums I’ve made that are just really lonely. I’m in there 12 hours a day just trudging through this production, so it’s a great joy to bring people I know into my music. I’m hoping to be able to do this more often”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Larry Hirshowitz
I never really considered that solitude can be seen as loneliness when it comes to recording. One of my bugs regarding other artists on albums is that the central artist gets distilled and you yearn to hear more of their voice. There is nothing wrong with using other artists, but so many artists cram their albums and it can be a bit much. When it comes to Beck, he has always sort of done things on his own and, as I said, it is rare you hear too many other voices. He has come to the point where he has been in the studio doing vocals by himself for too long. Rather than load the songs with as many people as he could find, Beck has chosen great producers and artists to give his work a bit more company. The fact he has brought in Sky Ferreira and Greg Kurstin suggests Hyperspace has Pop elements and may be closer in tone to Colors than an album like Morning Phase (2014). It is, as I reiterate, hard to pin Beck down and predict what the next album will contain. I like the fact there are some familiar names on board this time around. Rather than have every track featuring a different artist, instead there is some well-chosen partnership. After decades of putting out fantastic music, Beck has realised that it gets a bit lonesome carrying the music himself. Maybe this will lead to future albums having other artists involved. In any case, Hyperspace is another big move from Beck and sign that he is never going to slow or settle. The world would be so much more boring without his music; I cannot wait to see what his latest album contains.
PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Hapak
If Colors was a vibrant and luminous album set in the here and now, the energy and vibe of Uneventful Days seems to take its inspiration from the 1980s. The synths, delightful plinks and the rush of the opening seems to suggest Beck is nodding back to a decade that never goes out of fashion. What you have, rather than repeat what other artists do with the decade, is a blend of the delightfully spacey and atmospheric. One feels this lightness and a floating quality; there is also a slight heaviness that comes through. When Beck steps to the microphone, he talks about “Uneventful days, uneventful nights/Living in the dark, waiting for the light”. In relation to contrasts, Beck’s vocal has a slightly process quality, but it also sounds quite soulful and casual. What we hear is an almost machine-like tinge but there is little anger and foreboding in the delivery. Even when he sings of changing landscapes and battle lines, one never feels overwhelmed and saddened – even though the lyrics point to something quite serious. There is ambiguity in the lyrics. One could attribute them to modern politics and how there seems to be this huge divide; far worse than previous years. Maybe there is a personal sadness and realisation that the world around him is changing. I was instantly engrossed by Beck’s intriguing words and his vocal style. The combination is fantastic, and one is involved in the evocations and realisations. In some ways, the track has elements of modern R&B alongside 1980s’ touches. The clash of the modern and bygone; the fusing of something quite of-the-minute and hip with a nostalgic side gives Uneventful Days real depth and variety. When singing “I know, I know, I know…”, that coda seems like a sense of understanding or naivety: Beck pining for stability and hope but realising there is too much division around him.
Many modern artists are expressing anxiety and fears regarding the world in a very charged, depressed or heavy way. Beck manages to inject beauty and calm as he allows the lyrics to move and infiltrate the senses. When Beck sings about not getting things right and making mistakes, I get the feeling he is talking less about predictions regarding the world and is, rather, looking at his own life and the choices he has made. It makes me wonder whether Beck is expressing a feeling of stagnation or downward shift at a time when the world is moving in all sorts of directions. Perhaps he is unable to make sensible choices and find a semblance of calm in his own routine because of what he is seeing and hearing. For those expecting Beck to be the same as he was on any other song/album, you will be surprised. On Uneventful Days, he switches between 1980s Pop/synth, but one can hear current chart-based R&B/Pop; he even gets a bit funky in places. It is a concoction of time periods and genres that melts together superbly in a song that moves Beck’s sound and story on. More and more, as the song progresses, I feel there is some strain or personal burden that Beck is trying to make sense of. When he speaks of these never-ending days and nights, I feel there is a domestic component rather than a political one. The composition is busy but never too hectic. There are some skiffling beats and machine-fed moments; a breeziness and urgency that makes Uneventful Days complex and contrasting. I detect, perhaps, a tinge of irony when Beck sings of the uneventfulness of the days. Maybe he wants something good to happen or he is in a rut where he needs to figure things out and go back to how things were. Like every fantastic track, you will think one thing when you hear it first before your mind and opinions change. Everyone will have a slightly different perspective. The more I listen, the more my mind changes and I flip between love breaking down and a look at the world – Beck trying to get his head around it all. Uneventful Days is one of the most interesting songs has produced for a few years. That is no slight: quite the opposite in fact! What I mean is that, when you listen to the track, it seems quite simple and direct. Instead, the song brews and bubbles in the mind and will resound in the imagination. It is another terrific song from one of music’s true originals. It is hard to say whether Uneventful Days is typical of Hyperspace’s direction. Whatever we get from the album, it is likely to be one of 2019’s very best.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Dukoff
I have discussed a lot of different elements regarding Beck and his music. He is an artist both binary and completely across the spectrum. By that, I mean his music can be separated into the crazy and colourful but also the more emotive and sweeping. Within these sectors, there is so much diversity, character and difference. When he is putting out an album that is quite evocative and deep, the music and vocals are really arresting and nuanced; the lyrics paint these incredible images – one can never accuse Beck of being boring and one-dimensional. I also love his more variegated approach, where Beck marries disparate sounds into this collage. Beck is touring at the moment, so keep an eye out and catch him if you can. He is one of the most important artists we have in music and I hope there are albums for many more years to come. Odelay was the first time I heard a lot of different genres fused in such a daring way; Guero gave my life a sense of renewed purpose and, since then, I have followed his work and devoured every track. The rest of this year will be a mixture of touring and promotional interviews as we ready ourselves for Hyperspace next month. I do wonder what 2020 holds in store for Beck. There are going to be gigs, but I am already looking at the next album and what it might contain. We have artists that simply appeal on a single level and have a particular sound. There are those who go further and occasionally shift gears as time goes by. Then, there are those who always move and ensure that their music keeps on growing and evolving. Beck is in that very rare group; one that is reserved for the elite. Beck’s latest track(s) is another assured, different and compelling slice that will be in the head for a very long time. He is a true master and ever-evolving writer who is in his own world and league. We need to preserve, promote and promulgate Beck because, when it comes to artists of his stature, they come around…
PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Burbridge
PHOTO CREDIT: Rachael Wright
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