Feats of Strength: Beck

We’re really excited for the release of Beck’s new album Morning Phase next week, so we’re going to be taking a closer look at one of the greatest musical talents of the last twenty years.  It’s pretty amazing that Beck has consistently produced great music for such a long time–sure, people knew that the guy behind “Loser” had a genius instinct, but who knew that it would lead to a sustainable career?  In preparation for an extended look at the career of Beck coming up soon on this site, we’ve decided to whet your appetite with this quick look at one of Beck’s most well-known but least-understood strength.

Back in the 90’s, we were all about BREAKING THE RULES and TEARING DOWN BOUNDARIES and you know what GENRES DON’T EVEN MATTER ANY MORE, MAAAN.  In many ways, one of the catalysts for this movement was Beck’s own “Loser”, which in tearing new folkies a new one by attaching a hip-hop beat to hilarious ramblings, inspired many to mix-and-match musical styles as they saw fit.  Of course, this was a dangerous power that left in the incapable hands of neophytes could reign terror across the land (See: the rise of late-90’s “rap-rock”).  Or it could just be kind of shitty (See: almost every single “mash-up” since 2000).

The difference with Beck was that he didn’t mix genres just for the sake of the mix; he instead found the connections between them, and built on those to create a new sound.  Take for example the section of “Where It’s At”, from 3:11-3:32 (we’re using the original track because this section was edited from the video version).  Beck in this post-chorus bridge is about to lead into a repeat of the first verse, and begins by singing with a distorted voice with a hilarious non sequitur of “Make Out City is a two-horse town” (which is generally pretty true if you think about it).  It’s followed by the sample “That’s beautiful, Dad”, which in juxtaposition with the original vocal provides a hilarious response to Beck’s original…suggestion (really, it’s the “Dad” part that seals it).  It then moves into a sublimely slinky sax solo, which captures the mood of the entire exchange.  Underneath this jazzy solo, Beck uses a similar guitar figure to the one that’s been used throughout the rest of the song (at least in terms of tone), that groovy country-tinged blues line that is immediately recognizable.  Except now the rhythm has shifted a bit, and now it’s a more laid-back feel.  All of these elements together, while representing different genres and styles, are mixed together to create a new sound.

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