[CD Review] Beck, 'Modern Guilt' (DGC)

Beck has made a much-lauded career by camouflaging his ramshackle ways in the scenery of his producers. Still, even more so than you might expect, Modern Guilt feels as much a Danger Mouse album as it is a Beck release.

Danger Mouse, the whiz behind Gnarls Barkley's maniacally celebrated "Crazy"—the feel-good hit of summer '06—is the perfect beatsmith/producer for Beck's increasingly cryptic and overwhelmed-by-society lyrics (it's been a long time since Mr. Hansen got "crazy with the Cheez Whiz"). Modern Guilt is the odd Beck album about which one of the first things you'll notice is the beats. And despite the quality boho-folk tunes meandering above, the beats are what you'll focus on.

This is also Beck's least scattered album, meaning there are fewer non sequiturs, lyrically and musically. "Orphans" opens the record with a staccato breakbeat that yields to some clean folksy guitar before coming back to give some street cred to a song that wanders through inner space. The next track, "Gamma Ray," flat out sounds like Gnarls Barkley, with a great mod-boogie simplicity. On "Chemtrails," Beck dons a mellow falsetto that puts him beautifully in the middle of Brian Wilson's range, singing what could be a Wilson tune were it not for the massive, rolling drums that Joey Waronker pounds underneath it. (I thought Danger Mouse discovered the hugest break ever, until I read the liner notes and found this to be the only song that employs a flesh-and-blood drummer.)

There's a decidedly lo-fi vibe to Danger Mouse's handiwork—which brushes everything from dark trip-hop to dusty jungle to some tin-can two-step that's uniquely his—and the album was recorded at Beck's house in Silver Lake, so it exudes simple lo-fi goodness (lo-fi Guero, often) with serious beats.

 
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