Beck has traveled light years from being pegged as a reluctant generational spokesperson when “Loser” metamorphosed from a rejected demo in 1992 to a ubiquitous smash by 1994. In the decades since, he has crystallized much of the post-modern ruckus of the ‘90s alternative explosion, but in his own unpredictable manner: Beck’s singular career has been one that’s seen him utilize all manners and eras of music, blurring boundaries and blazing a path into the future while simultaneously foraging through the past.
Surfacing just as alternative rock went mainstream, no small thanks to his 1994 debut Mellow Gold, Beck quickly confounded expectations with subsequent releases including the lo-fi folk of One Foot in the Grave. But the album that truly cemented Beck’s place in the pantheon was 1996’s multi-platinum Best Alternative Grammy winner Odelay, that touched upon all of his obsessions, providing a cultural keystone for the decade from the indelible hook of “Devil’s Haircut” to the irresistible call and response of the Grammy-winning anthem “Where It’s At.”
From the world-tripping atmospherics of 1998’s Mutations (his second album to win the Best Alternative Grammy) and the florescent funk of 1999’s Midnite Vultures through the somber reflections of 2002’s Sea Change, 2005’s platinum tour de force Guero and 2006’s sprawling The Information, no Beck record has ever sounded like its predecessor. In the interim following 2008’s acclaimed Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt and the Grammy-nominated standalone single “Timebomb,” Beck eschewed the typical album/tour/repeat cycle of the music business. Instead, he expanded into multi-media endeavors including a one-time-only live re-imagining of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” utilizing 160+ musicians in a 360-degree audiovisual production, and the equally unprecedented Beck Hansen’s Song Reader, originally released December 2012 by McSweeney’s as 20 songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music–complete with full-color original art for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case (and since recorded as an actual album by the likes of Jack White, Juanes, Norah Jones, David Johansen, Beck himself and many others).
Beck’s creative tide continued unabated throughout 2013 with three standalone singles released digitally and on 12-inch vinyl (“Defriended,” “I Won’t Be Long,” Gimme”), custom-created performances for Doug Aitken’s Station to Station series of transient happenings, life-affirming headline dates, and special Song Reader events in which Beck and eclectic line-ups brought the book to life for a few unforgettable evenings staged in San Francisco, London, and at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Beck opened 2014 with the 12th–and possibly most well received―album of a peerless career: Morning Phase. Likened by some to a companion piece of sorts to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, Morning Phase featured many of the same musicians who played on that record–and who also accompanied Beck for the rapturously received world tour supporting the record: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Joey Waronker, Smokey Hormel, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Jason Falkner. Featuring the hits “Blue Moon” and “Heart Is A Drum” along with instant classics like “Waking Light” and “Wave”, Morning Phase harkened back to the stunning harmonies, classic Californian song craft and staggering emotional impact of that record, while surging forward with infectious optimism.
Morning Phase debuted at #3 in the U.S., selling nearly 90,000 copies in its first week—besting Modern Guilt’s debut week despite the market being down more than 70% since that record’s release six years prior—and generating a rare unanimous chorus of critical acclaim from the likes of THE NEW YORKER (“a triumph… After listening to Morning Phase 50 times, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it… You don’t get many albums like this in your lifetime… I can’t imagine someone who couldn’t find some succor or beauty here”), ROLLING STONE (“an instant folk-rock classic… feels as personal as it does universal”—4 ½ STARS), THE NEW YORK TIMES (“The record’s beauty approaches slowly, floats, surrounds and shuts off external awareness in the brain stem”), NPR (“If we needed any proof that albums still matter in this short-attention-span world, Beck’s flawless 12th album, Morning Phase, is a triumphant testimony”), and more. Morning Phase closed out 2014 atop year-end best lists, with highlights such as #1 Album of 2014 in ESQUIRE (“no album in recent memory taps into our cultural zeitgeist as effortlessly. This is what it sounds like to come to peace with everyday ambiguity and indecision.”) and a slew of others including ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (“Each song swims by with gorgeous melancholy, as though he’d found the only acoustic guitar on the moon”).
Beck rolled into 2015 taking the Album of the Year top honor at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, as well as the prize for Best Rock Album. Morning Phase also won in the Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) category. With three previous Grammy wins to his credit, Beck walked away from attending and performing at the 2015 ceremony with double his previous Grammy tally.
The music has flowed from Beck without pause since: from globe-spanning live shows consistently hailed as the best of his storied career to the 2015 psych-dance summer jam “Dreams” that NPR hailed as “urgently contemporary and irresistibly vintage,” USA TODAY labelled “a strong contender for song of the summer,” and ROLLING STONE raved “This funky little groove is giving us Midnite Vultures flashbacks in the best way possible.” This creative watershed couldn’t even be confined to Beck’s output under his own name, as evidenced by sublime collaborations including the Chemical Brothers’ “Wide Open” and Flume’s “Tiny Cities.”
“Dreams” gave Beck his second #1 single at AAA radio (the first being Morning Phase’s “Blue Moon”) as he continued feverishly working up sketches at home to be fleshed out with producer Greg Kurstin (coincidentally a veteran of Beck’s live band circa Sea Change). It seemed there was a literal embarrassment of riches from which to carve out the diamond of a new album—but then Beck noticed that a track he’d been demoing at home had “gone viral”… amongst his children and their friends, that playdates were morphing into dance parties punctuated by refrains of “Wow”…
“Wow” was unveiled to the world June 2, 2016 in all its fluorescent mutant hip hop glory. And accompanying the retro-futuristic earworm was a virtual “Wow” world built with the help of a global collective of creators on Instagram. If “Dreams” was the post-Morning Phase party we’d all been waiting for but just didn’t know it until the invite showed up, “Wow” kicked off the afterparty for the next generation—coming at you live from the future courtesy of Beck. Reactions to “Wow” and its accompanying video have been as fast and furious as its release and as joyous and enthusiastic as the song itself:
“The sweetest mix of his lovingly absurdist hip hop side and his slyly gorgeous singer-songwriter side since Odelay”—ROLLING STONE Playlist #1
“Gloriously kooky… a weird-yet-welcome departure, playing with hip hop production and goofy rhymes before regaining its composure on a kaleidoscopic chorus… bring on the full album.”–USA TODAY Song of the Week
“A 2016 version of the bemused surrealist funk of Odelay…has a big, sweet incandescent hook. It’s a great song!”—STEREOGUM
“All hail the return of Party Beck.”—ESQUIRE
Most recently, Beck confirmed that his 13th studio album, Colors, hailed in advance by ROLLING STONE as a “euphoric blast of experimental pop,” would be released October 13, 2017 on Capitol Records. Possibly the most aptly titled work in Beck’s storied discography, Colors unfolds in an intoxicating rainbow of auditory tricks and treats, making it a shoo-in for the summeriest smash of the fall season. The newest advance taste of the album is the captivating piano-driven “Dear Life,” which elicited Beatles and Beach Boys comparisons from THE NEW YORK TIMES amongst a slew of generation spanning critical raves including:
“‘Dear Life’ makes good on Beck’s promise, with waltzing pianos, a killer guitar riff, and am immediately memorable chorus.”—ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
“Leave it to Beck to craft a sunny, upbeat pop song that doubles as a scream into the void… the kaleidoscopic new single from his forthcoming album, Colors, has something for partiers and wallflowers alike…when Beck asks on the buoyant chorus about the thrill being gone, the answer is: not yet—not in his career, not in this life-affirming song.”—PITCHFORK
“Fans of Beck will have even more to love in the perennial hitmaker’s latest… a dark pop-rock sound that hints at influences from everyone from The Beatles to Spoon.”–TIME 5 Songs You Need To Listen To This Week
Colors was produced by Greg Kurstin and Beck, with the exception of “Wow” produced by Beck and Cole M.G.N., and “Fix Me” produced by Beck. The album was mixed by Serban Ghenea, except “Dreams” and “Up All Night”—the latter previously leaked from the FIFA 17 videogame soundtrack–which were mixed by Greg Kurstin and Beck.
The touring regimen around Colors recently kicked off with a headlining run that has generated yet more of the most enthusiastic notices of Beck’s live career, including:
“An electrifying Beck worth the wait at first Milwaukee concert in 20 years… at his sold-out show at the Riverside Theater Wednesday, he proved that in his case, time is irrelevant… His strongest songs are imaginatively created, impeccably executed, incredibly catchy and as alive as music can be… Beck also proved he’s still an innovative craftsman with two newer songs. ‘Dreams’ was awash in fuzzed-out synthesizers, celestial backing vocals and gentle acoustic guitar strums… And ‘Wow’ live was a wonderfully weird, and captivating, blend of hip-hop beats and dreamy pop melodies… Yet another song only Beck could pull off.”—MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL
“You wouldn’t have known nine years had passed between Beck’s last Twin Cities concert and his rascally show Thursday night at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul. At 47, the Californian hippie hip-hop rock hipster — who’s already due back Sept. 8 opening for U2 at U.S. Bank Stadium — looked as spry, slender and elfin as he did back in 2008… he and his seven-piece band walloped the audience with an almost nonstop string of funky, rowdy fan favorites… the harmonies soared… spirited and irresistible.”—MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
“Beck has a style and a sound that could suit any era and fit any occasion… He playfully eludes easy categorization, and remains one of the most distinctive songwriters of the modern era… On Thursday night at a sold-out Palace Theatre, all of Beck’s many creative sides were on full display, as he and his cracking seven-piece backing band delivered a lively 95-minute set that mixed his big radio hits in with tender, unguarded moments… he seemed rejuvenated, enjoying himself as much as he did during his alt-outsider early days. Beck can bring the party with the best of them, while also soothing your broken heart if you need it. He did plenty of both on his grand return to Minnesota.”—CITY PAGES
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