Beck is someone I admire but don't always follow. Ever since "Loser" and 'Mellow Gold' I have been strangely fascinated by how he operates, but not really needing to hear everything that he does. I love the fact he will just get up and record with random artists and labels, how he released an album as manuscript paper and not on audio, how he will stop a project only to come back to it years later when the mood is right; the man is as crazy as a box of frogs. This album was started in 2005 and then placed to the side whilst Beck did other projects; it was to be revisited in 2012 and recorded at his home studio, with some of the work being done at Third Man Studios (which did not even exist when the project was started). This album also sees the return of some of the people who helped him with 'Sea Change' and has been described as a companion piece to that album as well. It is also the first of two albums that Beck is aiming to release this year and is to be the more acoustic affair of the two releases. All making for interesting times for the man from Los Angeles, let's find out how it sounds....
Starting with the intro track "Cycle" which goes straight into "Morning" the album tone is established early; like many albums, the two tracks are really just the same one. It is a subtle and soft beginning with beautiful guitars, subtle harmonics and Beck sounding more mournful than I can remember. "Heart Is A Drum" feeling like the acoustic brother to R.E.M.'s "Man On The Moon", but without the song being a tribute to Andy Kaufman. It is a gentle and beautiful tune which takes time to envelope you to its subtle charm. Then comes "Say Goodbye", an even slower number which whilst being well played does not totally float my boat. This can be the problem with an acoustic album; you sometimes get songs which would have been better played in a different way. I just have a feeling that this one is probably just a meh moment of the album. Next though is "Blue Moon" which makes the rest of the work that has gone before sound like cats having angry sex. Released as a preview track beforehand and it is the song of the year so far for me, it is a mournful hymn to the lost souls of the world who have been left behind; it is a truly fantastic moment in 2014.
"Unforgiven" is next, it takes the mood to a slower place that is a perfect follow on to "Blue Moon", it is the sound of a broken heart that is waiting for the love of their life to come back to them. Whilst not as glorious as "Blue Moon" it is still a beautiful moment in the album. "Wave" follows on with a string opening that reminds me of many a war film, a painful vocal that will be the background to a plethora of broken hearts and a delivery that will have weaker mortals crying before the end of the song. The only way the mood could be darker was if the downers and razor blade came with the side, together with a hand written note from Beck saying 'Do it!’ it is that dark. "Don't Let It Go" is like a ray of sunshine in comparison, it is still a slow and mournful number but it sounds so hopeful and joyous after "Wave". It is also a brilliant and amazing number that makes this album a lot easier. "Blackbird Chain" meanwhile is another lighter number which lightens the mood considerable, whilst it is not the world's most essential song it works so well on this album.
"Phase" is another short intro track which is placed in a weird section of the album, but falls straight into "Turn" that sounds like this generations "Sound Of Silence", it is a glorious piece that makes your heart break and your soul lust for the moment to never end. "Country Down" is ok; maybe a little too by the numbers for this part of the album, but it is pleasant enough and well played. I think it is just that the middle section of the album is so stunning that it is a little bit of a shame that this song is so melodic so close to the end of the album. Closing the album is "Waking Light" which ends the album on a high note and brings this album to a peaceful (if a little bit mournful) ending.
This album is a dark moment in alternative acoustic rock, when I say dark I don't mean awful I just mean that there is little light in it and it is harrowing to the extreme. I have never been so uncomfortable listening to an album which is as beautifully put together as this. As I joke fully hinted as, there are moments that make me want to hide as many of the sharp objects from my house as possible; also it is a tad on the long side and I have a feeling that it would have been better if it was mixed up with some of Beck's more natural numbers. With that being said though, it is a brilliant album, just one to keep for those days when the mood is a little dark and harrowing. If you thought 'Automatic For The People' was depressing, it is nothing compared to this - it makes that album sound like the most happiest album ever created.
8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Best track - Blue Moon
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Beck website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Alternatively you can listen to it on Deezer here