Feb 11 2022

Album Review: Beck – Midnite Vultures (#MWE)

I first heard “Sexx Laws” on the radio in 1999, like everyone else. I was young enough I hadn’t listened to anything from Beck other than what was on the radio at that point, but my local college station loved Beck’s new single. I had picked up “Loser” and “Where It’s At” through osmosis, and so I thought of Mr. Hansen as this chameleonic presence, able to switch up his style at any point and seemingly bend genres to his will. Midnite Vultures seemed like a more cartoonish, funky, danceable phase Beck was going through. In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t ever buy the album. The album cover was bright and shiny and weird, but there were always other things I preferred to spend my $15 on.

In 1999, it was novel to mix up genres and styles the way Beck did, though he usually did so from album to album. Nowadays, the whole idea of genre is more an industry thing, a passe concept that artists all but shun. Categorization is more loose in 2022, and it hasn’t caused many issues.

And so Midnite Vultures, its then-uncanny, zany approach, and, well, the music, all seems a bit carbon-dated. From the opener “Sexx Laws” to “Nicotine & Gravy” to next single “Mixed Bizness” we hear horns, banjo, liquid bass, funk guitar, disco beats, and Beck howling about making all the lesbians scream. It’s a lot, and it really just sounds like the artist was throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall. The next song in the order, “Get Real Paid” is pure Kraftwerk pastiche, with more form than substance. Throughout the album, Beck tries his hand at humor, to varying results; his lyrical jokes and tongue-in-cheek deliveries don’t land nearly as cleverly as on previous endeavors.

Listening to Midnite Vultures in one sitting is a dizzying experience, at points exciting and at others maddening. For every moment that is fun, or at least interesting, there is one that is too esoteric or awkward that brings the quality of the album down. Certainly, Beck is not averse to creating a challenging listen, but “Hollywood Freaks” isn’t an effort from his history of non sequitur rapping that is worthy of repeat rotations. “Que Onda Guero” it is not; in fact, it reminded me more of something Flight of the Conchords would have conjured up.

Still, there are highlights. “Milk & Honey” opens with big guitars and features a fully-developed chorus embellished with just the right amount of sonic whirrs and whooshes to make it sound a bit futuristic. And “Debra” is one of the few instances where Beck’s histrionic vocal delivery successfully captures his attempt at conveying his sense of humor. But the album suffers from sameness of approach and drags a bit near the middle with tracks like “Peaches & Cream,” which retreads sounds we’ve heard before.

Beck would go on to create the folk-rock masterpiece Sea Change and a series of albums that all sounded pretty similar to each other and diminished in quality over time. He would win Album of the Year at the Grammys for his lesser Sea Change sequel Morning Phase. In the context of his entire career, Midnite Vultures marks the end of the beginning. Beck’s output afterward was less weird, and sometimes a bit more boring, but certainly more focused.

Score: 6/10


May 30 2012

Listen: Childish Gambino feat. Beck – “Silk Pillow”

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Childish Gambino has been staying pretty prolific as of late, dropping new collaborations with A-listers nearly every week. This time around it’s with a guy we haven’t heard rap in six years: the one and only Beck Hansen. The track was co-produced by both artists, and while it doesn’t offer anything remarkable from either, it sure is nice to hear Beck slinging his weird poetry alongside standard introspection from Gambino.

Listen over at Consequence of Sound, and not at Pitchfork, where they can’t help but spit insults at Donald Glover even as they post tracks by him.


Nov 8 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Sea Change

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

34. Beck – Sea Change

In 2002, Beck completely did a 180 and released an album I initially found very upsetting. Well, not initially. It’s still pretty depressing. But in a good way. After hearing the anit-folk of Mellow Gold, the dance rock zaniness of Odelay, the bluesy Mutations, and the boogie-laden Midnight Vultures, I was having a pretty difficult time pinning down the stylings of Beck. He was, and still is, all over the place. He recreates his style with every release. But Sea Change was probably the starkest transformation for the musician. And almost ten years later, it remains my favorite.

Inspired, or maybe tormented, by the breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Beck penned these uncharacteristically un-ironic songs about utter sadness to traditional instrumentation and beautiful string arrangements written by his father. Singles “Lost Cause” and “Guess I’m Doing Fine,” especially the latter, perfectly capture the theme of Sea Change, one of alt-country heartbreak and burgeoning depression. This album is still perfect for comfort after loss, or even just a contemplative drive along a lonesome country road, preferably on the vast, falt terrain that is West Texas.

Listen to Sea Change on Spotify.


Feb 24 2011

My Top 300 Songs of the 2000s – 50-41

Today I continue my ongoing feature showcasing my personal picks for the best songs of the past decade, posting ten songs at a time.

50. Passion Pit – Sleepyhead

Named my favorite song of 2009, I’ve already explained how much I love this song. Even a casual reader of the blog knows how many times I’ve blared it loudly, as I’m doing right now. It never gets old. The song is littered with hooks – in the singing, in the wordless chorus, in the sampling, in the background synths. It all just works. And Passion Pit will likely never top it.

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Dec 20 2010

Five MP3s You Must Grab 12/20/10

      1. Neon Indian - Children of the Revolution (T. Rex Cover)

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      2. Lykke Li - Get Some (Beck Remix)

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      3. Amadou & Mariam - Sabali (Vitalic Remix Radio Edit)

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      4. Toro y Moi - Still Sound

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      5. Broken Social Scene - Texico Bitches (Star Slinger Remix)

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Oct 29 2010

My Top 300 Songs of the 2000s – 130-121

Today I continue my ongoing feature showcasing my personal picks for the best songs of the past decade, posting ten songs at a time.

130. Flaming Lips – Do You Realize?

Just a couple of days ago, I talked about how awesome this song is, but as fate would have it, the list compels me to elaborate.  In three-and-a-half glorious minutes, Wayne Coyne sums up our life….or at least it feels like he does.  With a simple question, he gives the most personal compliment to everyone listening, then continues to examine the beauty we take for granted – the sun, our friendships, our life.  It’s a sweet call for a simple enjoyment of who we are and what we’re doing, in this very moment of our fleeting lives.  Because it’s hard to make the good things last….

      1. The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?

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