Heard Here

Sea Change

Beck 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

Porcupine Tree
In Absentia

Every 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 to change.

—Julie Sabatier

Ryan Adams

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.

—Max Willens

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