Album Review: Beck - Modern Guilt

Hip-Hop hasn’t typically embraced leftist sub-genres as readily as Rock and Pop. So even though Beck’s early hits were often just oddball Hip-Hop records disguised as Rock, The Community never made any attempt to claim him. His support from other audiences has been inconsistent as well, freeing him to wander across borders as he pleases and focus on creativity instead of marketing. By now, Beck has evolved past primitive notions of genre, but in a roundabout return to his roots, he’s enlisted fellow travelin’ man Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton for his latest, Modern Guilt.With that said, don’t go into Guilt expecting a rap album; it’s closer to an hour-long version of the instrumental break from “Space Oddity.” Like Danger Mouse’s work with Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz, Hip-Hop production techniques are sculpted into a broader range of styles to become something that a five piece band alone couldn’t quite accomplish. Meanwhile, Beck’s performance is more subdued than usual, setting aside the stream-of-conscious raps and glam performances. Here, Beck is more like a ghost that lives in the attic of his songs than the off kilter frontman he sometimes plays on TV. You always feel his presence, but his vocals are more organically bound to the music than layered on top of it. “Orphans” starts the show with a subtle assist from Cat Power. Here, (and on “Youthless” and “Replica” and everything else) he guides the track effortlessly but does so more with dreamy melodies than catchy hooks and neon-lit theatrics. Bits of Danger Mouse’s dense compositions resemble his work with other bands, but the songs still feel unique since Beck doesn’t simply fall back and allow Burton to envelope him in sound. Having built his career with the assistance of bold producers like The Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys) and Nigel Godrich (Radiohead), Beck has a unique expertise for finding his pocket in big, sprawling arrangements that would intimidate a less sure-footed artist (“Soul of a Man”). Modern Guilt’s success isn’t exactly a surprise thanks to Beck’s consistently high quality, but it’s always nice to hear a musician deliver repeatedly while continuing to grow. With his Interscope contract now fulfilled, Beck is likely to go independent for good, but he’s clearly got the talent to avoid getting lost in the Indie-net shuffle. Beck still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and however he chooses to bring them out, they’re sure to be magic.