Beck and the musical scores experiment

In a move that echoes the days of the pre-vinyl era, singer Beck has announced his decision to release his new album Song Reader entirely in the form of musical scores.

The eccentric star has stated that he wishes to place the responsibility for the creation of audible versions of his new 20-song album solely on those who have bought the sheet music.

Song Reader, which reportedly includes the songs “Do We? We Do” and “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” among its 18 songs replete with lyrics, and two instrumentals.

Audio versions of this album will be streamed exclusively via publisher McSweeney’s website, and will be the only versions available on the World Wide Web. However, these songs will not be performed by Beck himself, but by Beck-trained “select musicians.”

According to Beck’s website, the sheet music will come in lavish “full-color, heyday-of- home-play-inspired art” and will be stored in an equal lavish hardcover carrying case in a manner that is as “visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together,” and measures in at 9.5 inches x 12.5 inches.

Artwork comes courtesy of Marcel Dzama (who previously worked on the artwork for Beck’s 2005 long-player, Guero), as well as Leanne Shapton, Jessica Hische, Josh Cochran and several others.

The package will consist of “full-color song booklets” for each of Beck’s new songs, and will include lyric sheets, as well as an introduction by Jody Rosen of the New York Times, and a foreword by Beck himself.

The post on Beck’s website states that the reason for his decision to take this novel approach is that he considers “Song Reader [to be] an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012 — an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track.”

The Song Reader musical scores will be released in December this year through McSweeney’s Publishing.

Aqualung: Magnetic North


RIYL: Beck, Bright Eyes, Ben Folds

Aqualung, a group that is essentially one man, Matt Hales, flirted with retirement before realizing that his gift for songwriting needed to continue being shared by the masses. His/their latest, Magnetic North, is Aqualung’s second album on Verve and first set of new material since 2007’s Memory Man. Following a move from his native England to Los Angeles, Aqualung’s new material is slightly more upbeat and inspired in spots than some of his previous work, which tended to be mostly dark, moody and melodic. Right from the start, Magnetic North kicks off with “New Friend,” a super catchy ditty that features, for lack of a better term, a psychedelic piano riff. “Reel Me In” is like a cross between Ben Folds and Death Cab for Cutie, and it’s another upbeat anthem.

There are more melodic-as-hell tracks in “Fingertip” and “Hummingbird,” but that doesn’t mean Aqualung forgot where he came from. Some of the best numbers are the haunting and falsetto-laced “Lost,” which sounds like it could have come from 2004’s Strange and Beautiful; the powerful “36 Hours;” or the quirky and dark title track, a fitting closer to this unique batch of songs. If you’re a fan of alt-pop that has more alt than pop, chances are good you’ll love this new one from Aqualung – and as an added bonus, it’s the kind of record that will make your significant other think you’re cool and sensitive. And what could be wrong with that? (Verve 2010)

Aqualung MySpace page

What do Beck and his friends do when they have 12 hours to kill?

Cover INXS albums, apparently.

Here is the formal explanation of Beck’s Record Club:

Record Club is an informal meeting of various musicians to record an album in a day. The album chosen to be reinterpreted is used as a framework. Nothing is rehearsed or arranged ahead of time. A track is put up here once a week. The songs are rough renditions, often first takes that document what happened over the course of a day as opposed to a polished rendering. There is no intention to ‘add to’ the original work or attempt to recreate the power of the original recording. Only to play music and document what happens.

Past coverees have included the Velvet Underground and Nico, Skip Pence and Leonard Cohen. This time around, it’s INXS’s Kick. Check out Beck with members of Liars, St. Vincent, and Os Mutantes covering “Guns in the Sky.” Check back here for more updates, which will be released in the same sequence as the album.

Record Club: INXS “Guns In The Sky” from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001′s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)

Yet another reason to like Beck

Record Club: Songs Of Leonard Cohen “Suzanne” from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

I don’t know how I missed out on this character. In retrospect, it’s understandable. Growing up in the 90s, my first memorable experiences with music were from the albums my dad played around the house, the pop rock radio stations my mom listened to, and bands my friends and I got wind of that we thought were cool. Thus, my tape cassette collection from that period includes everything from the Offspring, Green Day, Weird Al Yankovic, 311, Bush, Boyz II Men, and Mariah Carey. I was all over the place. I could bob my head to the majestic sounds of the Beatles, rock out to Green Day, geek out to Weird Al, and privately sing Boyz II Men with outright embarrassment. Needless to say, I didn’t have an older brother to show me the way. On that note, one musician I’m sure said brother would have introduced me to was Beck. I’ve listened to his late-90s album Mutations all week, simply happy that my own musical instincts gradually led me to his catalogue.

Well, it’s 2009, and Beck has now been on the scene for quite a while. Rather than rest on his laurels, he’s decided to take on any odd or challenging project he sees fit. We previously announced that he’s writing Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new album which will keep his musical ambitions in check. However, Beck has also managed to create one of the coolest web pages I’ve seen for any musician or band. One section, called Irrelevant Topics, has Beck chatting it up with Tom Waits and Will Ferrell about various topics. Recently, Beck’s added a feature called the Record Club where he gathers a group of musicians to cover a classic album in one day. Previously, Beck’s cohorts tackled The Velvet Underground & Nico. Now, he’s recruited Devendra Banhart, MGMT, Binki Shapiro from Little Joy, and Brian Lebarton and Bram Inscore from his touring band to channel Songs of Leonard Cohen. The first track, “Suzanne,” has just been posted.

Click below for more videos!


Read the rest after the jump...

Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

Better than the 2003 collection that bears his name, this michelgondry.com-exclusive set of music videos is simply staggering. The beauty of Gondry’s work is that his methods are surprisingly low-tech (Beck’s “Cellphone’s Dead” being this set’s exception). He uses reflective glass to create the ghosts that haunt Paul McCartney’s house in “Dance Tonight,” and Steriogram’s “Walkie Talkie Man” is a brilliant stop-motion clip, using both real people and their string equivalents. Gondry assembles a couple of clever yet completely unique one-take videos with Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” and the White Stripes’ “The Denial Twist,” and his videos from the pre-CGI early ’90s, namely Thomas Dolby’s “Close but No Cigar” and Sananda Maitreya’s “She Kissed Me” (otherwise known as Terence Trend D’Arby to your older brothers and sisters), look as good as any video made today. The set comes with a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage, a couple films featuring Gondry solving a Rubik’s Cube with various parts of his body (feet and nose, to be precise), and they also added the parody of Gondry’s video of the White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button” that appeared on a 2006 episode of “The Simpsons.” Genius stuff, across the board. If only he could replicate this consistency in the feature film arena.(ElektroFilm)

Click here to buy “Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After DVD 1

Your favorite band sucks: bands and artists the Bullz-Eye music writers just “don’t get”

Every music lover has been there – in front of the television or a set of speakers, listening for the first time to the work of a critically revered artist whose songs are supposed to change the way you look at the world…only to come away wondering what all the hype was about. For the iconoclastic among us, these moments are opportunities to prove what independent thinkers we are; for everyone else – a group that often appears to include virtually every name-brand music critic on the planet – they’re opportunities to turn off your ears, nod your head, and smile. What kind of self-respecting music writer doesn’t love the music of Bruce Springsteen? U2? Elvis Costello? A total hack, right?

Your favorite band sucks Maybe. Or maybe we tend to forget that one of the most wonderful things about art is the utterly objective way we respond to it. One establishment’s treasure can be one lonely listener’s source of constant befuddlement, consternation or outright rage – and with that in mind, your Bullz-Eye Music staff put its heads together and drew up a list of all the bands and artists we’re supposed to love…but don’t. Each of the writers who contributed to this piece is speaking solely for himself, and you’re sure to disagree with some of the names mentioned here – and, of course, that’s sort of the point. But enough of our introductory babble – let’s break down some critical idols!

The Doors
“…don’t even think about describing their sound as “timeless”; you’ll be hard pressed to find music as trapped in time as these peyote-fueled dirges, and no one summed up the life and legacy of Jim Morrison – whose death was as brilliant a career move as you’ll ever see – better than Denis Leary: ‘I’m drunk, I’m nobody. I’m drunk, I’m famous. I’m drunk, I’m fucking dead.’”

Bruce Springsteen
“Perhaps Jello Biafra put it best when he referred to Bruce Springsteen as ‘Bob Dylan for jocks.’ But I can sum up what I dislike about the majority of the Boss in one word: Glockenspiel.”

Pink Floyd
“If you’re 14 and discovering pot, Pink Floyd’s a must. Hell, Dark Side of the Moon is practically a gateway drug in and of itself. If you’re out of high school and still into ‘em, you’ve got a problem.”

Conor Oberst
“…his songs are duller than a steak knife in a prison cafeteria. I’ve tried repeatedly to ‘get’ Oberst’s work, but each time, I come away further convinced that his music is an elaborate prank hatched by the editors of Pitchfork.”

To read the rest of the bands Bullz-Eye doesn’t get, click here.

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Mojo Flucke’s picks

Old music critics never die; they just come up with more and more biting, cynical reinventions of the phrase “this album stinks.” Yet they persist, because every few years a truly all-time great release comes out. One wants to be there when it happens, and bear witness to the unveiling. Marah’s record knocked Mojo out upon first listen during 2008′s early days, and he’s happy to report that it remains as rich and beautiful almost a year–and a thousand plays–later. Here’s Marah and nine others worth checking out.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Marah: Angels of Destruction
Out of nowhere comes a roots-rock, bluesy masterpiece, an Exile on Main Street for 2008. It’s that good. Perhaps the addition of new member Christine Smith made a decent band into a great one, or maybe Marah’s finally matured into a full-flowered band and are settling in for a decade of excellence and more records to which we can look forward. The comparison to Exile‘s apt; just as that seminal Stones piece fused blues, rock, country, and folky elements in a sloppy sonic stew that, somehow, sounds perfect. Forget 2008, this might very well be the album of the decade.

2. Lettuce: Rage
Fifteen years after these seven Massachusetts maniacs formed as Berklee geeks they come out with a new funk record. The thing is, these geeks were pretty darn good back in the day playing jam-band festivals. Then the individual members proceeded to get better, scattering to the four winds to become session musicians and touring sidemen for major pop and rock acts – and bandleader Eric Krasno went on to form Soulive. In 2008, the band returned as a hard funk outfit in the 1970s style of bands like Graham Central Station, Tower of Power, and the Edgar Winter Group. The original horn section remained intact, and the group’s advanced jazz knowledge keeps it tight and slick. If you pine for old-skool funk played by people who get it and aren’t just copying the old stuff best they can, this is the record you’ve been waiting for.

3. Joe Jackson: Rain
The old hand reunites with his original bassist and drummer to play classic, introspective, semi-acoustic pop songs. It’s Joe Jackson to die for: sophisticated, catchy, and a little jazzy music of which he’s always capable, but sometimes seems to nibble around the edges and miss the mark. This album’s a bullz-eye, the album for which his old fans have pined for years.

4. Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White’s on borrowed time. The media establishment’s starting to hate him, and at some point his act will wear thin. But for now, man, his White Stripes output and this side project band (oh miracle of miracles, there’s a bass here for once) is white-hot good. Whether it’s a slow country ballad or a bashin’ rocker like “Salute Your Solution,” the Raconteurs’ latest is a must-have for your collection. That is if you’re a rock fan, and have a pulse.

5. James Hunter: The Hard Way
From busker to the big time – okay, he’s not exactly a household name, yet – this wonderfully powerful Brit soul singer loves Dion and pre-Motown Detroit soul. Not exactly a formula for finding success, but it happened: He was nominated for a Grammy for his debut. The Hard Way is his follow-up, recorded with vintage sound and production values to make the songs sound more like one of those old reissues that’s been cleaned up with 2008 technology from acetate masters or some such. It’s glorious, actually, and with acts like Amy Winehouse and others carrying the torch of old-style soul music, James Hunter has found a place in this world for performing the music he loves.

6. Beck: Odelay (Deluxe Edition)
Listen, I cringe at the thought of putting CD reissues into any top 10 of anything, including “Top 10 doorstops of the year.” This reissue, however, not only added a full second CD of bonus material, but the graphics and packaging were so good, liner notes so enlightening, that this great record became something greater in its reissue. Some people hate Beck because of his slacker demeanor, and others hate the Scientology portion of his rep. Still others just don’t get him. But when you put on the headphones and turn up the record, it’s clear he has command of the pop lexicon and can borrow any groove from any rock era and make a cool new tune out of it with arty, abstract lyrics and great rhythms. A white Prince, this kid is. Give him his due.

7. Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians I
Not always accessible and not always caring about it, MMW released something of a stream-of-consciousness record in November that may be one of the most accessible sets they’ve done. Without the heavy mixing, Radiolarians captures the band jamming out, in a New Orleans R&B mode for several tracks. There are some unstructured, free-jazzy, almost ambient tracks here that you gotta be a diehard to appreciate, but there’s also “Professor Nohair,” a Professor Longhair/Dr. John piano funk jam that has a wickedly catchy ostinato that literally etches itself into your DNA upon first play. You can’t escape it. It’s creative and cerebral instrumental rock, the antithesis of the prefab instant hip-hop-in-a-can most charting artists open up as backing tracks to their insipid vocals.

8. Black Diamond Heavies: A Touch of Someone Else’s Class
Standing in the shadows of the Black Keys and the White Stripes and following in the footsteps of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and the Flat Duo Jets, the Black Diamond Heavies are a primitive blues duo whose gimmick is a damn Rhodes-and-drum instrumental lineup with a lead singer who sounds a little R.L. Burnside and a lot Al Jourgensen. Great stuff, if you like noisy blues played on vintage analog instruments. Sounds like a tremendous formula to my ears.

9. The Caesars: Strawberry Weed
“Jerk It Out” was the Caesars’ song featured in an early 2008 iPod commercial, but sadly it’s not on this record. Nonetheless it’s a trippy, garageyy guitar-fueled festival of tasty melodies and catchy choruses. The enthusiasm and power of this rockin’ band typically exceeds the legal limit of awesome. If you like groups like Jet, the Hives, and Gringo Star, this record’s a fastball down the middle of your plate. Take a big swing at it.

10. Tommy Emmanuel: Center Stage
Steve Vai’s boutique label finally gave acoustic guitar monster Tommy Emmanuel his due, after the Aussie spent decades toiling in obscurity collecting the love of musicians and a couple of Grammy nominations but no notoriety in the mainstream. The new double-live CD shows Emmanuel for what he is: The Horowitz of the acoustic guitar and a consummate entertainer. Chances are it won’t be going platinum anytime soon, but the sound is exquisite and the performance is better. If you appreciate acoustic guitar music, this set’s a no-brainer.

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jim Washington’s picks

It’s the dawn of a sunny new day in America, but we’re still working through the past in this year’s batch of music. But great art can come from great pain, right? Some people deal with it by making sad music, others try to lift you up. There was plenty of super music from both camps this year.

Best albums of 2008, in no particular order.

Beck: Modern Guilt
Take some Beck, add a little Danger Mouse and a lot of existential angst, what do you get? A killer album from an older, wiser and more bummed-out Beck.

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
You can’t possibly be in a bad mood while listening to the upbeat, world music-infused indie rock of VW. This is the album I probably played more than any other all year. Really, who does give a fuck about an Oxford comma?

The Black Keys: Attack & Release
After leaving a Black Keys show this summer a buddy of mine said, with echoes of Jack Black, “That rocked so hard my stomach hurts.” That about sums them up.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Momofuku
EC is riding high these days with a cool new TV talk show, but it’s this raw, energetic album, banged out in a few weeks, that tells us he still matters.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
Ryan Adams, newly clean and sober, made two really good albums this year and last combining his pop and alt-country pasts. Here’s hoping he stays on the straight and narrow in ‘09 and beyond.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
“Highly Suspicious” turned off as many people as it turned on, but tracks like “I’m Amazed” put this solidly on the list of feel-good albums of the year.

TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Art rock? Dance rock? Yes. TVOR produced an album of tortured songs about love in a bleak time.

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Death Cab created a darker, and yet more uplifting sound on this album, which produced a new classic anthem for stalkers with “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds
Not to be too much of a homer, but Pharrell and company (who hail from my neck of the woods) put out a freakily brilliant album this year. Alongside home girl Missy Elliott, it makes you wonder what’s in the water down here.

The Roots: Rising Down
The perfect rap album for the end of Bush’s America, chock full of anger, fighting and hate. Here’s hoping the next one will be just as good, but a little sunnier.

Welcome to 2009 everybody!

Deep Cuts: Beck

I became a Beck convert when I saw him perform “Debra ” at the KROQ Acoustic Christmas in 1999. At the time, I was only familiar with “Loser, ” “Devils Haircut ” and “Where It’s At, ” but I really dove into his back catalog after seeing him live. Even though he’s widely regarded as one of the most talented and prolific musicians of the last two decades, his music hasn’t done very well on the singles charts. In 12 years, he has only one Top 10 single (“Loser “) and just six other songs charted on Billboard’s Hot 100. Beck is one of those post-grunge artists that have a ton of good songs that are either too quirky or too meticulous for rock radio. Several of these songs were released as singles and did chart on modern rock radio, but still manage to fly under the radar of the casual Beck fan. The others are album cuts that probably haven’t sniffed much airplay. Either way, Beck has a lot of tracks that just haven’t garnered the attention they deserve, so it’s a great time to present Beck’s Deep Cuts:

“Beercan” – Mellow Gold
The modulated vocals on this track are probably enough to turn pop radio listeners off, but once you get to the groovy chorus, they’re barely noticeable. Since the song is about partying, it is aptly titled. Out of nowhere Beck uses a sample from a Care Bears album where a young girl states, “I’m sad and unhappy. ”

See the full list here.

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