Scot and Jeff talk to MSNBC's Chris Hayes about Beck.
Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes and Editor-at-Large of The Nation. Follow Chris on Twitter at @chrislhayes and watch All In on MSNBC every weeknight at 8:00pm Eastern.
Chris's Musical Pick: Beck
How did Chris get into them? Chris talks about finding Beck at the special moment in his adolescent years where music can truly make a permanent impact on you. His first album was Odelay, bought for him by a high school buddy (who, coincidentally, went on to become Extremely Famous). Beck as the musical epitomization of that late '90s "irony/post-irony/New Sincerity" moment that other artists and authors were also wrestling with. Jeff emphasizes Beck's work ethic, and how it sits completely at odds with his early 'slacker' musical reputation.
The Lo-Fi Indie Years
Before there was Odelay, before there was Mellow Gold, there were a series of lo-fi self-produced indie-rock records: Golden Feelings, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, and One Foot In The Grave. Where do they sit in the Beck pantheon? Jeff is a huge fan of difficult, badly-produced D.I.Y. noise (he cites to Pavement's early EPs and records) so he's on board. Chris is too, and still has fond memories of finally managing to hunt down a copy of One Foot In The Grave back when it was impossible to find in record shops.
KEY TRACKS: "No Money No Honey" (Golden Feelings, 1992); "Rowboat" (Stereopathetic Soulmanure, 1993); "Asshole" (One Foot In The Grave, 1994); "Satan Gave Me A Taco" (Stereopathetic Soulmanure, 1993)
Beck makes it big, and then self-consciously gets weird
Soy un perdidor, baby. With "Loser," Beck busts into mainstream consciousness and never entirely departs from it. Is there really that much difference between Beck's major-label debut Mellow Gold (now often dismissed as a Pablo Honey-like "one hit and a bunch of detritus" record) and his critically beloved follow-up Odelay? Neither Jeff nor Scott are all that convinced that there is. Jeff thinks it's deeply underrated, and shows remarkable commercial focus given his earlier lo-fi recordings. Chris points out how funny Beck could be, and how that humor comes through loud and clear on Mellow Gold. The danger is that sometimes he can seem like he's doing a bit.
Jeff would like to tell you that Odelay is overrated and is really second-rate compared to the rest of Beck's discography, but alas, he cannot. It is every bit as good as its reputation. Scot and Chris note the influence of a quality producer in sparking Beck's creativity: the Dust Brothers on Odelay, and then later Nigel Godrich. Still, Scot concedes that it is not quite an 'album' so much as a collection of excellent songs. Everyone thinks "Ramshackle" is one of the finest songs of Beck's career, and particular love is shown for "Jack-Ass," a song built off a transcendent sample of Van Morrison doing a Bob Dylan cover -- with all the layers of ironic meaning that entails.
KEY TRACKS: "Loser" (Mellow Gold, 1994); "Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)" (Mellow Gold, 1994); "Nitemare Hippy Girl" (Mellow Gold, 1994); "Blackhole" (Mellow Gold, 1994); "Hotwax" (Odelay, 1996); "Novacane" (Odelay, 1996); "Jack-Ass" (Odelay, 1996); "Where It's At" (Odelay, 1996); "Ramshackle" (Odelay, 1996)
Beck's Mutation: Mutations and Midnight Vultures
The gang has nothing but praise for Beck's sudden left-turn away from Odelay's commercially potent sampling and hip-hop fusion pastiche signalled by 1998's Mutations, a low-key record of slow, folky, exotically tinged ballads based around acoustic instruments. Scot argues that this is his best record, and nobody can really take issue with the choice. Chris calls "Tropicalia" an excellent example of musical cosplay. Jeff insists that Mutations is Beck's most "Pavement-like" album, and notes that Beck probably had the right instinct in wanting to release this as an indie-label record rather than a "major-label" release: as great a record as Mutations was, it killed Beck's commercial momentum.
As for Midnite Vultures, everyone appreciates the wild fusion aspects of the record, but both Chris and Jeff note that there are perils here as well. Jeff is tired of everyone citing to "Debra" as a standout track when it's at best something like the 20th-best song Beck ever wrote, and essentially Beck wearing silly musical drag, taking ironic homage to a ridiculous extreme. Chris agrees; while he likes it, he thinks it comes weirdly close to an uncomfortable 'blackface' vibe -- the comparison to David Bowie on Young Americans is hard to avoid. There is more to Midnite Vultures than just "Debra," however: "Milk And Honey" may be one of the best songs of his entire career.
KEY TRACKS: "Nobody's Fault But My Own" (Mutations, 1998); "Canceled Check" (Mutations, 1998); "Tropicalia" (Mutations, 1998); "Sexx Laws" (Midnite Vultures, 1999); "Debra" (Midnite Vultures, 1999); "Hollywood Freaks" (Midnite Vultures, 1999); "Broken Train" (Midnite Vultures, 1999); "Milk And Honey" (Midnite Vultures, 1999)
Beck returns after a long layoff with his gloomiest, dreamiest album yet. Also maybe his best. An album full of glum dirges about heartbreak (inspired by the end of his long-term relationship). Beloved by critics, met with general bemusement by consumers, 2002's Sea Change gets a huge thumbs-up from Scot, Jeff and Chris. This is Chris's favorite Beck LP, and he raves about the sonic and aesthetic coherence of the record. Jeff loves the fact that once you strip away the strings and oceanic production from Sea Change, it's basically a country-folk album -- dig those pedal steel guitars all over the record! Jeff also reflects upon what it really means to say that Beck is an "eclecticist," and cites to the gap between Odelay and Sea Change as embodying that vast range. Buy this record today, people.
KEY TRACKS: "The Golden Age" (Sea Change, 2002); "Paper Tiger" (Sea Change, 2002); "Lost Cause" (Sea Change, 2002); "Guess I'm Doing Fine" (Sea Change, 2002); "Sunday Sun" (Sea Change, 2002)
Guero, The Information and the long afternoon of Beck's '00s-'10s career
Jeff feels that Guero is a competent but otherwise uninspiring return to his "Dust Brothers" form. Scot speaks up in favor of The Information, particularly the amazing track "Strange Apparition." Chris pushes for Modern Guilt as one of the Beck records he likes to put on the most -- good for most any mood. Jeff salutes Beck for being ahead of the paranoia-conspiracy-Alex-Jones zeitgeist with "Chemtrails." Nobody is too terribly enamored with Morning Phase, but hopes are high for the upcoming album.
KEY TRACKS: "Girl" (Guero, 2005); "Missing" (Guero, 2005); "Strange Apparition" (The Information, 2006); "New Round" (The Information, 2006); "Dark Star" (The Information, 2006); "Modern Guilt" (Modern Guilt, 2008); "Chemtrails" (Modern Guilt, 2008); "Say Goodbye" (Morning Phase, 2014)
Chris, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs from Beck's career.
You can subscribe to Political Beats on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn.
You can also download this episode here.