Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reviews New and Old

Beck - Modern Guilt
Two Hundred Thirty-Eight Words: I am a longtime Beck fan. I liked Mellow Gold, but One Foot in the Grave won me over. Odelay, of course, was an instant classic. Mutations clearly demonstrated his versatility. However, Beck almost lost me with the 1999 debacle, Midnight Vultures. Then he won me over with Sea Change, especially once he toured this material with The Flaming Lips. The love didn't last for long when Guero was released three years ago. It felt as if Beck was trying to recapture what made Odelay such a great album instead of reinventing himself as he had done on his previous albums. I didn't even bother to buy The Information.

I purchased Modern Guilt a few weeks back. My hope was that it would be Beck's triumphant return. The uber-hot producer Danger Mouse was behind the knobs, and I had liked what he did with The Black Keys. My only worry was that this release would be like other alt-rock "comebacks" (REM, The Breeders, etc.).

Thankfully, Modern Guilt is a great listen. Danger Mouse and Beck stripped the songs to their bare bones and focused the production on grooves, harmonies, and Beck's enigmatic lyrical approach. The record reminds me the most of Caribou's Andorra with it's infectious grooves over retro-meets-DJ production. Beck and Danger Mouse traverse through some pretty familiar musical territory, but it certainly pleases the ear. Modern Guilt isn't ground-breaking, but I'm glad Beck's back.

The one song that makes it worth giving Beck a second chance:

Mice in Beck's pantry:
1...and he's dangerous

Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning - Something for All of Us
Three Hundred Sixty-Three Words:
Last year, Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew was featured on the band's first in what is turning into a series of albums focused on one band member and his/her material. If they actually complete one album for each member, it could be an impressive feat. There is something like 21 or 22 members of the Canadian collective. Of course, they'll be just as likely of recording 22 Broken Social Scene Presents... albums as Sufjan Stevens is likely to record an album for each state in the Guam.

With every group, there are weak links. With every gigantic collective, there are numerous weak links. A band, though, is able to make those weaknesses work when they get together. The Who were able to succeed despite Roger Daltrey's flaws. Pavement overcame their lack of a decent drummer by employing two mediocre percussionists. I'm sure BSS has their weakest link that they have overcome along the way.

A band as large as BSS has to have its share of flawed musicians. The surprise I found on Something for All of Us is that the weakest link could be co-founder Brendan Channing. Don't get me wrong, Something... is not a horrible album, and Channing is by no means a sub-par musician. It's just that this album might be my least favorite of the BSS catalog.

Like the Kevin Drew effort, Something... primarily features the highlighted artist's voice on most if not all of the tracks. Channing is not the most gifted of singers. He usually contributes a low, low growl that barely garners notice, much like Michael Stipe's vocals in early REM albums. Now that he's out front, it lessens some of BSS's punch.

Additionally, one of my regular complaints about BSS records is their uneven collection of rockers, jazzy fillers, and electronic flourishes. Somehow they often make this work and trick the listener into thinking that the record is really just diverse. On this BSS offering, it's annoying and frustrating.

Like I said, this is not a particularly terrible album, it's just not that good. I expect more from America's second-favorite Canadian band. Maybe next time they'll come back with a Broken Social Scene Presents...Feist.

The one song that makes you wonder how this could ever be a BSS song:
"Churches Under the Stairs"

Number of BSS members featured on this album:

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