Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’ And The Power Of Looking Back So That You Can Move Forward

For an artist as prolific and shapeshifting as Beck, five-plus years is a long time to wait between records. But in the time between 2008’s Modern Guilt and now, Beck has said that he was suffering from a serious back injury that prevented him from performing or even playing guitar for long. And yet, the inventive songwriter and producer kept himself more than busy. More than that, he seemed as creative as ever: He produced albums for artists like Charlotte Gainsbourg, Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, and Dwight Yoakam; he and pals like St. Vincent, Wilco, and many more covered classic albums in his Record Club project; and he dropped a whole damn book of sheet music with Song Reader. As a longtime fan of Beck, I consider him an artist with a free pass to do anything he wants and I’ll follow.

Continue reading Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’ And The Power Of Looking Back So That You Can Move Forward

Judging By The Cover: Six Great Cover Songs I Heard In Concert In 2013

All too often, bands you’re dying to check out — especially new ones — play shortened sets due to only having like ten songs to pull from — and you tend to walk away feeling a tad unsatisfied. I’ve always thought this is the perfect excuse to work up a cover song: It not only fleshes out the set, but, in many ways, introduces the audience to a band’s influences and own songs, and ultimately wins over fans. If a young band pulls out a great cover song, it actually makes me want to delve into its original music more. Go figure. So yeah, I love a well-chosen cover song, and especially one pulled off live in concert.

And this year, I was lucky enough to hear a bunch of them. Here’s a few:

Continue reading Judging By The Cover: Six Great Cover Songs I Heard In Concert In 2013

Beck’s Trilogy Of Stand-Alone Singles

Beck hasn’t put out a new record since 2008’s Modern Guilt. And sure, that’s a long wait for fans eager for new music, but the ever-inventive songwriter has been far from dormant: From his diverse production work and Record Club video series, to last year’s sheet music album, Song Reader, Beck’s remained as creative and productive as ever.

And this summer, he resurfaced in a big way, playing a run of acoustic shows in New York and at the Newport Folk Festival and (finally!) dropping a few new singles on his own record label, Fonograf. Now, Beck has released his third new single, “Gimme.”

With “Gimme,” Beck completes a trilogy of stand-alone songs that, when heard all together, seem tonally and musically linked.

In June, there’s was wobbly and chopped electronic beats of “Defriended

And, in July, the sparkling, dreamy pop of “I Won’t Be Long.”

And now there’s “Gimme,” a short percussive-driven track featuring heavily-filtered, robotic-sounding vocals and essentially indecipherable except the titular words “gimme.” And with plenty of sonic noises filling out the corners of the mix the weirdest one he’s put out.

None of these tracks will appear on Beck’s forthcoming, so far unannounced full-length album (and possibly two albums) due sometime before the end of the year. And while these three songs may — or may not — serve as an indication of what’s to come, with a musician like Beck, it’s always fun following him no matter what direction turns.

Beck Finally Drops A New Single, ‘Defriended’

Sure, he just put out the sheet music “album” Song Reader just last winter, but it’s been far too long since Beck released a proper album of new songs. Now, it looks like the long wait is near over: He’s apparently not just working on one, but two records to be released independently.

Rolling Stone cites a “music industry source” close to Beck, who says the musician intends to release the previously announced acoustic album, and another record that will serve as an official follow-up to 2008’s Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt.

But if all that wasn’t enough, today Beck dropped “Defriended,” a new standalone single which won’t be on either album. With deconstructed electronic beats and washy vocals, this could be yet another new direction for the iconoclast, shapeshifting musician. Can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Beck Transforms David Bowie With A 170-Piece Orchestra

Beck's soaring rendition of "Sound And Vision" includes full orchestra, a gospel choir, an Alphorn and even a yodeler. (Courtesy of the artist)
Beck’s soaring rendition of “Sound And Vision” includes full orchestra, a gospel choir, an Alphorn and even a yodeler. (Courtesy of the artist)

Beck Hansen certainly is no stranger to ambitious musical concepts — from his genre-defying albums and shapeshifting production work to his Record Club video series, video game music, and his recent Song Reader sheet music album. He’s also reportedly at work on his long-awaited first proper album since 2008’s Modern Guilt.

But now, he’s debuting something far grander: A nine-minute cover of David Bowie’s classic song “Sound and Vision” performed with 170 musicians and recorded with 360-degree microphones and camera equipment that lets viewers feel as though they’re actually there in person.

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Reblogging: NPR Linksplosion

Been awhile since I’ve dumped some links in for things I’ve done. Away we go…

— Song of the Day: School Of Seven Bells: A Spacey Dance-Pop Hymn

— All Songs Considered blog: Five Great Cover Songs From 2010 (So Far)

Jason Moran: Finding Sound, Then Making It His Own
— A Blog Supreme: More Moran Motion Pictures Please

Los Campesinos!: Tiny Desk Concert

Gogol Bordello: Tiny Desk Concert

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic: Tiny Desk Concert

— A Blog Supreme: Where Was The Jazz At Bonnaroo 2010?

NPR Music: Live From Bonnaroo webcast and coverage

The Mynabirds: Tiny Desk Concert

Zuill Bailey: Tiny Desk Concert

First Listen: Blitzen Trapper

Fredrik: Tiny Desk Concert

Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

Reblogging: Recent Pieces on NPR

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a round-up of recent works I’ve played a part in at NPR Music. So here we go with a hail of bullets:

Exclusive First Listen: Gorillaz, Plastic Beach

Abaji: Tiny Desk Concert: This is the first video I’ve actually shot for NPR. I also edited the video and produced the page taboot.

— Song of the Day: Yeasayer: Tightly Wound And Dance Friendly

The Gun Show: A Winter Workout Mix. Here I just sort of helped direct the photographer a little for this photo shoot. Then found myself playing the part of surly trainer. Yes I get paid for this.

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch: Tiny Desk Concert

First Listen: Massive Attack, Heligoland

Low Anthem: Tiny Desk Concert

First Listen: Beach House, Teen Dream

First Listen: Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM

Elvis Presley At 75: Songs We Love

In Memoriam: Musicians We Lost, 2000-2009. I did a majority of the building, researching and producing of this multimedia interactive page which was part of our End of Decade coverage. Looks pretty great I think.

Def Jam’s 25th Anniversary: Songs We Love. In which I discuss LL Cool J.

In Memoriam: Musicians We Lost In 2009. I was one of the main producers and researchers for this amazing interactive feature we did as part of our End of Year coverage.

Best Cover Songs Of 2009

Over at NPR Music, we’re wading through 2009’s best music: the best albums, songs and miscellanea from the past year. It’s admittedly obsessive and music geeky, but hey, that’s what it’s all about.

My main contribution to our coverage is a round-up of the year’s best cover songs, a genre that I can safely say is one of my favorites. This year seemed better than most with an outstanding number of great compilation and tribute albums featuring a wide array of cover songs. Take a look at the list — including my favorite ongoing project, Beck’s Record Club — and see Youtube videos of all my song choices here:

Judging By The Cover: The Best Cover Songs Of 2009

Charlotte Gainsbourg & Beck Collaborate On ‘IRM’

Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM from Charlotte Gainsbourg on Vimeo.

Jeez, as if Beck needed another project on his plate. Some details have started to surface regarding a new Charlotte Gainsbourg album titled IRM (French for MRI), a project she collaborated with Beck. Beck wrote all the music, co-wrote the lyrics, produced and mixed the record which is due for release in January 2010 it looks like (via Because/Elektra).

The first song to leak out — for free, officially through Gainsbourg’s own site — is the title track. According to the above video, “IRM” is about Gainsbourg’s own frequent MRI trips following a water skiing accident in which she suffered a brain hemorrhage.

The first official single “Heaven Can Wait” — reportedly a classic pop duet between Gainsbourg and Beck — is to be released soon.

According to Rolling Stone’s blog, the record has a rather high pedigree of musicians involved:

IRM will also feature contributions from Beck’s band of drummers Joey Waronker (who’s been playing with Thom Yorke in Los Angeles) and James Gadson on drums, Brian LeBarton on keyboards, David Ralicke on trumpet and Beck’s father, David Campbell, on string arrangements.

I quite like the new song they’ve released already… a bit more energy than Gainsbourg’s previous effort 5:15, a collab with French pop duo Air. Can’t wait to hear the rest.

UPDATE 10/23: Jessica Suarez of Stereogum provides this update regarding the record and in one portion hints at a potential upcoming tour:

Currently she’s back in Los Angeles, working with Beck and his band to figure out how to play their new songs in front of an audience, or if that’s even something she can do. “I really want to be able to do it, but it has to be a pleasure, it can’t be a terrifying experience,” she says. “I love the songs, and I love singing them, so I just have to find that pleasure again.”

UPDATE 11/10: The first official single “Heaven Can Wait” is now out. It definitely has that staple bar-room bluesy Beck sound reminiscent of his 1998 record Mutations, with the slack-stringed acoustic guitars and upright parlor pianos and junkyard drumming. In otherwords, sounds awesome.

Old Things That Are New To Me: Melody

File this one under “This seems like something I should have known… but didn’t.”

This morning I was listening to the wonderful Seattle radio station KEXP online and heard a moody, grooving song by David Holmes called “Don’t Die Just Yet.”

(Holmes, you might know from being the musician, producer and DJ behind many film soundtracks including notably, Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven.)

As I was listening, I heard these amazing swelling strings and dueling distorted guitar solos that I noted out loud sounded exactly like Beck’s fantastic “Paper Tiger” from Sea Change, one of my favorite albums by Beck.

It was promptly pointed out that this Holmes remix incorporated bits of strings from Serge Gainsbourg’s song “Melody” and that it was a song that Beck and Sea Change producer Nigel Godrich had apparently openly aped for their own song.


I have been only somewhat aware of Serge Gainsbourg’s work on a very general level — I can recognize his musical style when I hear it, and have always enjoyed most of what I’ve heard. But I’ve never owned any albums by him so, up until now, I’ve never been overly familiar. But considering my fondness for Beck’s music, I was naturally a tad shocked that this song had eluded me.

I always love when hearing some random song takes you down this rabbit hole that presents an opportunity to discover new music and to dig into the Gainsbourg-sized gap in my musical knowledge.

“Melody” of course comes from the 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, in which Gainsbourg sleazily sings of a pseudo-autobiographical tale involving a car crash with the aforementioned Melody Nelson, a Lolita-esque teenage nymphet that he eventually seduces.

Histoire de Melody Nelson‘s mixes abrupt guitar, funky bass grooves and Gainsbourg’s distinctly lecherous spoken word vocal delivery all flourished with lush string and choral arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier who composed almost all the music on the record.

According to the Wikipedia article, the album has “proven to be highly influential amongst later francophone and anglophone musical performers” including the Air, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Portishead, and Beck.

A music video was made for each song on the incredibly short 28-minute album and eventually packaged together as a musical. Check out the video below for “Melody:”


How did I miss this one? How did I miss that more than obvious connection between Beck’s song and Gainsbourg’s? The world will never know.