has always managed to create albums by intricately blending various
genres into a unique sound. While all of his works are casually
linked by a distinguishable “Beck” sound, he is careful
not to make any of his albums too similar. Sea Change, Beck’s
latest opus, sounds the furthest removed from any of his previous
work. Mainly an acoustic work, it is closest in comparison to 1998’s
sidetrack Mutations or his independent folk effort One Foot in the
Grave. But Sea Change is more introspective than those affairs.
The lyrics are more personal than One Foot in the Grave and the
music is more sedated than Mutations. In contrast to the his previous
buoyant and often humorous albums, Sea Change is contemplative and
dark in nature and is perhaps Beck’s most important artistic
statement to date.
The album itself resembles a melancholy counterpart to the Flaming
Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Both records set thoughtful
lyrics to a collage of acoustic guitars and lush sounds. Where Yoshimi…
is a brighter record, Sea Change is warm and mellow record. It feels
comfortable, right from the start with the inviting acoustic tones
of “The Golden Age.” The song is one of the highlights,
a surreal country song, full of drifting slide guitars and vocals
that echo into nothing. “Lonesome Tears” starts out
sounding like early ‘70s Pink Floyd or, more accurately, Virgin
Suicides-era Air, with Beck pulling his best Nick Drake impersonation.
This is typical of the influences Beck sought out on Sea Change.
The record draws heavily from John Martyn and Nick Drake and at
times even Tim Buckley and other experimental ‘’70s
folk musicians. The orchestrations of rich floating strings and
the deep guitars would seem right at home on Drake’s Bryter
Layter or Martyn’s Solid Air. This is most evident on “Round
the Bend” and “Already Dead.” However, modern
artists penetrate Sea Change also. The sounds of Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse
and even Lambchop make their way into the mix.
Sea Change was produced by Nigel Godrich, who has also done Mutations
and various albums by Radiohead, the Divine Comedy and Travis. Godrich
helped to create the warm, lush feel that makes Sea Change an enjoyable
listen. While, at times, the album is exceedingly sad, it feels
more comforting than depressing. Beck has reverted to the role of
singer-songwriter and embraced the country and folk music that only
graced his music before. The results are excellent. He sounds more
comfortable than ever. Mellow gold indeed.
Oliver William Pattenden
track is a surprise on the new Porcupine Tree album, In Absentia.
If you’ve never heard of this band, you are not alone. Though
they have been playing together since the early ’90s, this
latest effort is the quartet’s official introduction to US
audiences. The band has been playing what many critics deem “Progressive
Rock” in underground venues in the U.K. for the past decade.
Though lead singer Steven Wilson says he rejects this label and
the negative connotations it carries with it, he admits that Pink
Floyd has been a major influence. There are a few tracks, such as
the airy “Lips of Ashes” and “Heartattack in a
Lay by” that sound like they were written directly after an
intense listening session with Dark Side of the Moon.
The distorted vocals and finger-picked guitar is certainly reminiscent
of psychedelic ’70s prog rock. However, not every track on
In Absentia follows this model. The completely instrumental track,
“Wedding Nails,” which falls in the middle of the 12-song
album, has a very industrial feel to it. The riffing, electric guitar
coupled with shifting snare drum beats sounds more like Stabbing
Westward or Tool, whom the band also site as influences. This song
has a good beat and feels like it might be fun to dance to, though
the listener may be disappointed by the lack of lyrics as the entire
first three minutes of the song sounds like an intro.
In the album’s quieter moments, there is an element of the
melancholy that seems to be unique to English music. Tracks like
“Prodigal” have an almost poetic feel to them, though
the lyrics are somewhat trite. Wilson croons: “Rain keeps
crawling down the glass / The good times never seem to last.”
The lines may be lacking in originality, but the instrumentals in
this song are some of the most enjoyable on the album.
What is perhaps most interesting about this collection of songs
is their relation to one another. Hard rock gives way to acoustic
guitar as one track flows into the next. This album feels eclectic,
if somewhat disconnected. In other words, if you don’t like
what you hear at first, keep listening because it’s bound
It’s always tough to take first drafts seriously. They’re
not the final product, and there are unspoken hints at coming improvement,
but, as originals, they can’t be dismissed as being irrelevant
or disposable either. In trying to evaluate Ryan Adams’s latest
release, Demolition, similar conflicts come up. The folk-pop wunderkind
has released an album of demos and unreleased tracks that’s
simultaneously beautiful and disappointingly cliched, and which
by the end, leaves the listener equally nervous and satisfied.
Probably the biggest difference about Demolition is the reduced
involvement of Adams’ longtime friend and producer Ethan Johns.
Johns only produces three of the 13 tracks, while the bulk of the
album is produced by Dave Domanich (producer of Lenny Kravitz’s
first four albums), who lends the album a kind of Top 40 grunge
that sits unexpectedly well alongside the rich twang of Johns’
tracks. That contrast is one of the album’s selling points.
Nearly every song is beautifully arranged around Adams’ charming
melodies, and whether he’s howling or singing with his heart
in his throat, the songs sound wonderful. But while the production
works out, hearing Adams rasp out songs like “Starting to
Hurt” does not. The fact that he sounds like he’s auditioning
for the Goo Goo Dolls is sort of irrelevant; the bigger surprise
is that the lyrics are watery enough to fill a kiddie pool. Adams
is trying to flex his pop muscles, and on tracks like “Nuclear”
it’s clear that his capabilities for pop crafts are impressive.
But too often, he sacrifices the emotional potency that marked his
earlier efforts in doing so. The closest he comes to a compromise
between the two styles is “Hallelujah,” a gem of country-pop
craft that strikes the perfect balance between dysfunctional love
and toe-tapping hit. Other highlights include acoustic fare like
“Cry on Demand,” a track Adams produced himself and
“Tomorrow,” which he co-wrote with Carrie Hamilton.
It’s easy to write off an album of unreleased material, especially
when such rich work has come before it. But the richness of Demolition’s
production proves that Adams didn’t toss this off either,
which leaves a listener wondering what lies ahead for one of the
most promising songwriters of this generation. In the meanwhile,
however, enjoy what Demolition offers, and think happy thoughts
about what is to come.