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.

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