Friday, October 13, 2006

Beck and Justin...Oh My

How long has Beck been around/making his quirky music? What seems like forever, nowadays in the age of one hit wonders, singles being more important than albums, and artists being pigeon-holed any way they can. The real answer is that Beck put out "Mellow Gold" - his amazing debut album - in 1994. I'm not a big adult or anything and will show my age by telling you that album came out when I was in 4th grade. Was Beck even on my radar back then? Hell no. Transformers and Voltron were. I barely knew what pop music was, and I certainly wouldn't have understood why a musician would only go by their first name. I had a few great cassette tapes and a sweet yellow Sony walkman.

Listening to Beck at his best is like taking an album from any and all of your favorite genres and putting them into a blender. The byproduct may look gross, but it actually tastes great most of the time. If no one knows what to say about Beck 'eclectic' is the word they most often reach for. How else can you explain "folk, psychedelia, hip-hop, country, blues, R&B, funk, indie rock, noise rock, experimental rock, jazz, lounge, [and] Brazilian music" all being incorporated into songs and albums? There is really no denying he's the master hybrid maker (the king of musical broccoflower). Guitars being picked simply, layer on electric beat, another layer of bells and possibly a whistle played as the backbeat, start rap-speaking with little hints of sung melody, and near the end of song stop singing and add whacked out fuzz sounds. BAM! You've got a Beck tune. I could continue with this, but really, I'm just making something that is quite difficult seem easy. This isn't easy otherwise there would be more people trying to do it. Beck is always near the line of Genius and Crazy. Most of the time he's closer to the Genius side, but others I just don't get it, or don't find it enjoyable.

Here on his newest LP (his 9th...n.b. name another GOOD working musician with 9 albums, I don't think you can) You can find Beck kinda going back to his "roots" if you catch my drift. It's not as hip-hoppy as Guero and but doesn't have as much guitar strumming as Mellow Gold. This album has a little bit of everything. Cheesy 80's synth atmosphere on 'Movie Theme,' funky bass line on 'I think I'm in Love,' bells, the borrowed theme from Maynard Ferguson's "Chameleon" on 'Cellphone's Dead' (I really had to dig through my music library for this one), and static sounds on '1000 bpm.' One of the genre elements that is most lacking is that tinge of blues slide guitar that Beck has used often.

Overall though, this is a solid record. It doesn't have as much "outside the box" thinking as Guero did, but that was a surprise hit. So, instead of taking things even further Beck went back to the things he knows he does best. Except he still does it better than everyone. How much longer can Beck go on? I don't know. These albums have become his norm, and to consistantly step outside yourself and reinvent what you do is tough even for the best. This album isn't crazy or genius. It's Beck being Beck.§

I can't admit to liking Justin Timberlake, can I? Is that considered cool yet? Has he lost all of the boy-band stigma? If yes, can I say I rolled down all my windows and kept turning up my stereo when I put this on the iPod in my car? Well, whatever the answers I did. I listened to this as if I had a $5000 stereo. I have no subs, no amps, no nothing. Stock Bose stereo with 4 speakers. And it was great.

The beginning of this album has really great bass and if you listen enough to tracks or albums produced by Timbaland (think the newest Nelly Furtado) you know he has a particular "sound" and it's all over this album. There are colaborations with, Rick Rubin, T.I., and 3 Six Mafia. The title of the album does a great job describing what Justin is enamored with: Girls, Love and Sex. Every song on the album can be related to these aspects.

This album leaves 'Justified' in the dust and brings together elements of hip-hop, funk, pop, club synths, and melodic string fills. It bounces, rocks, bumps, and hooks you. It's impossible not to get into this record. The hooks are infectious. The strings on 'LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude)' sound reminiscent of what Jon Brion did for Kanye West's 'Late Registration.' The strings make the song warmer, and different from the typical pop/hip-hop song. Justin also is able to show off his incredible vocal range at the end of this song with additional layers as he sings. Again the stringed element comes in on the folowing track, this time reminiscent of Ravi Shankar.

The album begins with the hard-hitting R&B and Hip-Hop bass but slowly shifts to soulful singing on 'What Goes Around'. It shifts back to rougher hip-hop on the 3 Six Mafia track 'Chop Me Up.' Justin puts on his best immitation of a tough guy act. It's hard to take this seriously when the track has a pulsing piano, and string fills. The bass is there especially when the members of 3 Six take their turns on verses.

I was thrown for a loop on tracks 10-12. Justin's got a great album going, and then all of a sudden throws the switch for the Sap. I like loving songs, but they seem out of place on the album. They go along with the theme, and I know you can't have all the songs be radio-ready summer hits, but something just didn't feel right with these tracks. Don't get me wrong they're good, but maybe the first 9 tracks had me in a certain groove, and when these came on it killed that edge. The bonus track (from the Japanese Import version) 'Pose' features Snoop Dog and is really entertaining. Singing about wanting a girl to pose for a private sexy photoshoot. Snoop's verse is totally non-chalant and stays on topic of getting this girl to pose, and put it on the wall with all his other masterpieces. At the beginning of the song Justin quotes his own music with the guitar strum from 'Like I Love You' and sings "with your girlfriends dancin' to my shit (quote) like this, shakin' hips." I get a kick out of that type of stuff.

As much as I was afraid to like this album, I'll be strong and admit I really liked listening to this. If Justin didn't crush the N'SYNC stigma with this album you're crazy. I also admire him for letting the music dictate how long the tracks would be, not a record label. Nine of the tracks are more than 5 minutes. Having a studio album that's 71 minutes is actually getting your money's worth. He's is a viable solo artist who has a distinctive and fun style. I wonder how he'll take it to the "next level" from that Sexy is back.§

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cold War Kids...Again

This album comes out today. Back in July I wrote a short blurb about how these guys could bring it, and to look out for their debut LP...and here it is in all its glory. A lot of the songs appeared on their EPs, but these are remixed and mastered. Some of the early "professional" reviews are saying:

"Imagine the rawness of the White Stripes on Day 1. Or what Spoon would sound like at a church camp making music with found objects." - LA Times

"Who they are: the best new band in the world. What they're about: the sound of community." - NME

If you didn't believe me a few months ago, please go buy their cd and renew your faith in great indie rock.