Beck – Modern Guilt

Modern Guilt

When Beck made his most gorgeous album to date, 2002’s Sea Change, he was able to beautifully shape music that spoke volumes about the album’s unifying theme: a hard, hard breakup. This was a drastic change for Beck, one of the most idiosyncratic artists of the past fifteen years. Whereas his past music was defined on his ability to create off the wall music, paired with ironic lyrics; these were depressing, gloomy and bitter sounds and lyrics. So for the past six years, it sounds as if Beck has had a hard time being happy again. Though his personal life is more than fantastic, his music has lacked that playful, jovial side we grew to love from him. However, with the release of his latest album, Modern Guilt — which just happened to be released on the same day as the artist’s birthday — Beck has taken a strong step towards making enchanting music once again.

More so than before, Beck chose to do things much differently this time around. This is easily one of the shortest — if not the shortest — Beck albums to date. His last two albums were offered also as deluxe editions; Modern Guilt only comes in one form and with just ten songs. Even the cover art is very basic, faithful to the music that is found on the album.

To work backwards, the bombastic drums and mucky guitar on “Profanity Prayers” aid in revealing a harsher and direct sound. The bass is prominently heavy and the music is upfront. Beck also chose to focus the attention back on his natural talents as a gifted artist and “Volcano” is a wonderful example of this because it showcases Beck’s skill as both a songwriter and superb musician. Beck humbly sings, “I don’t know where I’ve been, but I know where I’m going.” The song brims with soaring choral-like background vocals, flittering strings and Beck’s trademark double-tracked vocals. Those few moments where all of the music cuts away and all you can hear is the faint background and Beck’s lovely, genuine voice are the greatest gifts of all.

These are only two of the terrific songs found on here. The first half of the album is filled with some of the best songs Beck has ever written. The keyboard effects and synth-heavy “Modern Guilt” show a Beck that is combining old and new sounds in a superior manner. You wouldn’t need to listen to it much to figure out that it was produced by Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. Burton’s presence is felt on each and every single one of these songs; whether it is on the scattered feeling of “Gamma Ray,” the Asian-influenced music of “Walls,” or even just the spectral recording and bass fills on “Chemtrails,” it’s all Burton.

There isn’t anything outlandishly overdone on this album as Beck offers a more stripped down approach. These are obvious efforts to return to a more cohesive, solid form and with a steady dose of subtle harmonies, crafty melodies and hooks, interesting instrumentation and oh yeah, two songs that feature Cat Power, Beck doesn’t disappoint.

It may not be as sonically rewarding as Midnite Vultures or Odelay, or maybe as densely packed as Mutations, but it’s still dang good. Part of the reason why Beck is consistently, criminally overlooked, is partly because he himself puts out consistently great music. And with Modern Guilt, this seasoned pro shows that he is still better than 90% of the new artists/bands trying to make music today.