photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to BECK was his iconic grocery store-themed "WHERE IT'S AT?" video that i saw at a NEW JERSEY relative's house in the summer of 1996 on MTV. my family was on vacation at the time and packing up supplies for my second year living in NIGERIA. so it was a weird time. that was also the summer i discovered RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GARBAGE and METALLICA as a teenager.
what makes ODELAY (DGC, 1996) so great is partly due to its INNOVATIVE production, overseen by THE DUST BROTHERS. it utilized found sound, classic HIP HOP breaks, MUZAK and basically anything and everything evocative and earworm-y into a POST MODERN blend. it was pure DADA in that it seemingly referenced everything yet paradoxically transcended such contextual limitations. at the time i was unfamiliar with the great HIP HOP tradition of sampling which effectively re-contextualized one's record collection into a new hybrid sound that at its most ADVENTEROUS defied genre and showcased a compositional prowess for creating new musical structures with no maps. ODELAY was not THE DUST BROTHERS first crack at this technique, as famously they had overseen the BEASTIE BOYS' INVENTIVE and ahead-of-its-time PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) half a decade beforehand, tirelessly contributing to the dizzying heights of that record which remains a high watermark for entire form to date; FYI i'd similarly throw PRINCE PAUL's production on DE LA SOUL's THREE FEET HIGH AND RISING (TOMMY BOY, 1989) in the mix as well.
BECK, whose family has its roots in the TRANSGRESSIVE FLUXUS movement of the previous generation, was a perfect avatar for this aesthetic as he had no qualms about mixing high and low culture, commercial and underground music as well as any and every variety of genre into an impossibly cohesive album. key tracks include "DEVIL'S HAIRCUT," "HOTWAX," "THE NEW POLLUTION," "READYMADE," "WHERE IT'S AT?" and "DERELICT" which are all completely nonsensical in the fine lyrical tradition of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, TINY TIM and FRANK ZAPPA yet have an EMOTIVE OPAQUENESS to them that belies a tender sense of ISOLATION and SOCIAL RETICENCE that many friends that were acolytes picked up on.
at the time ODELAY felt very of-the-moment as suburban kids like myself didnt feel as defined by genre as they had maybe ten years before during the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK era of the 1980s. kids i knew growing up listened to HIP HOP, METAL, PUNK, NEW WAVE and the omnipresent SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene with equal gusto. for a moment in the 1990s experimental ELECTRONIC MUSIC (DAFT PUNK, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS) was in the mix as well.
in some respect ODELAY lay the foundation for everything BECK did afterwards. the rest of his catalogue is a seeming series of genre exercises that showcased his AUTHENTIC appreciation and internalization of the myriad of tropes associated with FUNK (MIDNIGHT VULTURES), TROPICALIA (MUTATIONS) and LAUREL CANYON FOLK / COUNTRY (SEA CHANGE, MORNING PHASE), SYNTH POP (HYPERSPACE), LO-FI INDIE ROCK (MODERN GUILT) among numerous returns to his trademark pastiche style (THE INFORMATION, GUERO, COLORS).
in my estimation ODELAY is a seminal 1990s album on par in terms of immediate impact and enduring cultural cache with the likes of NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991), WU-TANG CLAN's ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS) (LOUD, 1993), RADIOHEAD's OK COMPUTER (CAPITOL, 1997), GREEN DAY's DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) and A TRIBE CALLED QUEST's THE LOW END THEORY (JIVE, 1991) among others. it is required listening and worthy of countless repeat listens. like those other albums, its almost fun to consider similarly sounding records that came thereafter. such is its greatness.
photo & text by nacrowe
with MIDNITE VULTURES (DGC, 1999), its hard to discern whether gifted songwriter / cultural chameleon BECK is parodying 70s/80s FUNK and R&B (a la PRINCE) or lionizing it. case in point is the song "DEBRA" which finds him coyly crooning and then wailing away with his impressive falsetto about his feelings towards a woman and her sister, whom he think is named, well, Debra. its so ridiculous yet virtuosically performed that it really walks that line. its also my favorite song on the album. to this day i cant discern whether it is pastiche or parody and maybe that ambiguity is the point.
other standout tracks such as "BROKEN TRAIN," "GET REAL PAID," "SEXX LAWS," "NICOTINE & GRAVY" and "MIXED BUSINESS" all utilize the synth lines, gated reverb, clipped percussion and synth pad textures that make the genre such a sonically pleasurable experience. it is a fun record that seems less concerned with the pastiche techniques utilized in his universally celebrated ODELAY (DGC, 1996) record and more directly interested in exploring the sonic oeuvre of classic FUNK from ZAPP and LAKESIDE to PARLIAMENT and the THE GAP BAND with a healthy bit of AL GREEN, LIONEL RITCHIE and BOBBY WOMACK thrown in the mix. at least that is what i hear.
this record is basically the answer to the question "what would a PRINCE record sound like if BECK made it?" it makes sense to me that he could pull it off given his staggering gift for songwriting and mercurial persona. and that core identity as a songwriter is what makes his discography so interesting, irregardless of genre or recording techniques, however experimental. this is his FUNK record, but he shines just as brightly in a FOLK or HIP HOP context.
i first heard this record when it came out. at the time i was in boarding school in NEW ENGLAND and like most things i was exposed to during that period, i had no context for understanding it. at 15 i wasnt familiar with the pioneering DUST BROTHERS pastiche production innovations found within the BEASTIE BOYS' PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) record, much less classic FUNK. i just knew it sounded energetic, fresh, idiosyncratic and above all else, fun.
and that is pretty much why i still go back to this record. its just fun. its definitely worth revisiting and pays dividends for those seeking experimental audiophile easter eggs and classic pop hooks alike. recommended highly.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
in the obtuse documentary BURROUGHS: THE MOVIE (CITIFILMWORKS, 1983) by director HOWARD BROOKNER we are provided a rare glimpse into the mind and writings of the influential BEAT writer WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS through not only his narration, but interview footage with peers and acolytes such as ALLEN GINSBERG, TERRY SOUTHERN, LUCIEN CARR, HERBERT HUNCKE, BRION GYSIN, PATTI SMITH, FRANCIS BACON and JON GIORNO as well as his only son WILLIAM BURROUGHS JR (who passed on during the time of filming).
we follow BURROUGHS as he guides us through his past including his time spent as a child in ST. LOUIS as well as his time at HARVARD, medical school in VIENNA, his failed attempt to enlist with the OSS (now the CIA) during WWII and subsequent fall into HEROIN addiction in NYC which was around the time he made the acquaintance of JACK KEROUAC and ALLEN GINSBERG. this continues through his marriage to JOAN VOLLMER and brith of his son through her accidental shooting in MEXICO and his son's eventual death in his 30s due to the chronic effects of alcoholism. littered throughout this personal narrative we find BURROUGHS reading excerpts from JUNKIE, NOVA EXPRESS, NAKED LUNCH, THE WILD BOYS and EXTERMINATOR! among other publications. we learn that NAKED LUNCH was written during his time in TANGIERS in the early 1950s when he was able to make use of the lax customs of local pharmacies to indulge in narcotics.
as a documentary this film was exceedingly dry. this is partly due to BURROUGHS prodding vocal affectations that seem to drone on ad infinitum. its funny, if i wasnt a fan of his work than i would find this film impossible to stomach, but he is a figure that pretty much brought POSTMODERNISM to literature in the 20th century and is a preeminent literary figure among his peers. his work is almost like a collage in art terms or montage in film terms as his cutouts served to provide jagged juxtapositions of concepts, words and phrases that seemingly spawned new visualizations and ideas out of multiple perspectives connected over space and time.
to verbalize his influence on modern culture, which has only bent more towards his worldview in the digital age of fractured realities where truth isnt relative, its irrelevant. seemingly we are in a post-truth and post-morality world where everyone is a JUNKIE for information. brutal low-grade gossip or refined, well-articulated and researched essays all fill the same fix and are mainlined and discarded the same, onwards looking for the next hit.
so this all makes me think that to experience this film expecting a straightforward presentation of a coherent narrative is wholly missing the point. if anything this film is a snapshot that is out of focus and out of context. a brief window into his late life mindset after a long fruitful yet painful career. it is up to his to draw our own conclusions on the worth of his perspective and words. on us to provide the context for this disjointed documentary of a man whose trade was navigating moral and temporal ambiguity.
parody by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO complete with a playlist celebrating the enigmatic, shapeshifting career of 90s postmodern ALTERNATIVE ROCK icon BECK.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo manipulation by nacrowe
there was an interesting period during the end of my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA when i knew it was only a matter of months before my move to VENEZUELA as a secondary english teacher. what an interesting era that was.
for 2-3 months i basically read everything i could about SOUTH AMERICAN history as well as LATIN culture writ large. this led me to things like reading OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA (MONTHLY REVIEW PRESS, 1997) by Uruguayan historian EDUARDO GALEANO as well as several HUGO CHAVEZ biographies and musical artists such as ANA TIJOUX (CHILE/FRANCE), LA VIDA BOHEME (VENEZUELA) and probably my favorite discovery, EL GUINCHO (SPAIN).
what makes music the music of this CANARY ISLANDS multi-instramentalist/producer stand out is his ability to contextualize disparate genres and textures into a cohesive sonic expression. the nearest analogues i can think of were artists like BECK and BJORK who both seem to revel in using multiple production techniques in the same track. i think the difference here is that for EL GUINCHO is playing with a different set of reference points (tropicália, afrobeat, old school hip hop) as BECK is known for genre-exercises as he was a child of the post-modern FLUXUS movement and BJORK is firmly a bridge between the pop and avant-garde world music scene.
for me the music of EL GUINCHO is very exciting on a sonic level and his album POP NEGRO (YOUNG TURKS, 2010) is something i have been listening to on constant rotation since it came out almost 10 years ago.
well worth checking this guy out. could not recommend his music any stronger.