Sunday, 20 January 2013

Almost a Decade Without Play

Someone broke his heart, thanks to whoever it was.
Today I'm going to gush a little about Beck's 2002 album Sea Change. I'll confess straight away that about 9 years ago I was borderline obsessed with this album! I was going to college at the time and as such had 2 hours of coach journeying to get through each day (add another 2 hours on to that if I left college early and relied on public buses), I always had my Discman for those journeys and for most of the day due to all the free periods my schedule had. For a good 5 months I only ever carried two albums, Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (should blog that at some point) and Beck - Sea Change. Those two albums were on an almost constant loop at that point in my life and I loved it that way. Over the last month or so Sea Change has been creeping it's way back in to a similar position with me, it's been getting a fair blast and if it wasn't for the ruck of music that's been arriving in my letterbox, it'd probably be getting a fair bit more.

Beck is an artist I'm usually giving a bit of play to all the time, partly because his shit spans so many genres that he fits into whatever I'm on to at any given time and partly because he's one of the few musicians that I actually own the majority of the music for (although not that book thing he put out). Sea Change is not one of the albums I have revisited though, I think in part because it is very much a soundtrack to the previously mentioned period of my life and it was a period that was largely uneventful too, it's the soundtrack to a time that I don't get nostalgic about. Recently I dug it out as I had been internally humming the album opener 'The Golden Age' in work, which in turn made me remember how fond I was of the album. I was eager to see if the 28 year old me agreed with the 19 year old version of me! It's safe to say that there isn't much common ground between Paul 2012 and Paul '03, for every Wu Tang or Beastie Boys song that that teenage me and approaching 30 me both nod to, there is a Reel Big Fish or Hed P.E that the grown up me is fully prepared to mock past Me for. With that in mind I wasn't sure if I'd still get the same kick out of the album.

The observant among you (Saw 4 flashback time: "Today I'm going to gush a little about Beck's 2002 album Sea Change") or the folks that know I only blog about stuff I like, will have realised that I needn't have worried. The album has held up and then some! The moment Beck's voice kicks in on 'The Golden Age'  I knew the album and me were going to be cool. For those who are familiar with Beck for albums like Odelay or Mellow Gold you'll probably find this album is somewhat of a departure for Beck. It's actually much closer in tone to his album Mutations yet it feels far more personal (possibly because it doesn't have any of the filler that Mutations seemed to be loaded with). It's a far more polished album than most of Beck's work up to that point and the lo-fi guitar noodlings, sample laden beats, and funky crowd pleasers have made way to lonelier, acoustically-driven, and dreamlike sound. The album is clearly made by a down in the dumps Beck and yet the gentleness of the strings and the subdued beats somehow make all the gloom quite nice. For an album dealing with such depressing subject matter it's actually pretty warm. For those unfamiliar with Beck it's still all of the above.

The album should really be enjoyed as a whole and I would encourage people checking it for the first time to enjoy it as such , but as is the norm on my posts I'm going to talk a little about some of my own favourite tracks on the album.

The Golden Age - The song that made me dig out the album again sets the tone of the album beautifully. Beck's haunting vocals, complimented by spaced out bleeps and whirrs, and the gentle, sometimes aching strum of Beck's guitar make for an astonishing song. This song gets better with every listen.

Lost Cause - This is my favourite track on the album and I'll admit to having used the skip button a few times in the car to make sure it's the last song I hear before I head off into work. It's a prime example of what I mean about the juxtaposition of the depressing subject and the warm niceness of the actual song. I've embedded it below because it deserves a listen.

Paper Tiger - The song that sounds a bit more like the better known Beck music. Beck sounds more like himself on this and less like the hurt grown up he sounds like on most of the album. A brilliantly subtle, slow builder that features some great orchestration. I believe that Beck's dad is actually responsible for the sweepingly dramatic strings on this song. I'm sure I read that somewhere once upon a time but there is every chance I've made that up. Enjoy it.

Already Dead - This is one of the most downbeat things Beck has recorded, it's a pretty depressing song to be honest but we need that kind of thing too. The man was clearly at a low point when he wrote this song and there's a brutal honesty to it. Just to give you a taste of it here is a sample of the lyrics...

Love looks away
In the harsh light of day
On the edge of nothing more
Days fade to black
In the light of what they lack
Nothing's measured by what it needs

Fuck that's grim. It's also incredible and I have always got time for music that can accurately show you the feeling of the songwriter.

There are only 12 songs on this album so I'll limit my rambling to just four of those tracks. As always I would ask people to buy the album if they get a kick out of the embedded youTube videos. I know Beck isn't short of cash and it'll probably end up with L.Ron's crew but dude still made this shit so deserves to have reimbursement for it.



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