The New Beck Album You Can’t Hear

[Originally published September, 2012 at Manarchy Magazine]

Those who rightly mourn the way overproduced, made-to-order pop-rock with all its lip-synced, pitch-corrected, soullessness has been slowly taking over the airwaves should breathe a sigh of relief when Beck finally releases his new album.

Of sheet music.

You read that right. Sheet music.

Now let’s be honest, Beck is no stranger to music industry shtick or production-studio trickery in his music, though usually more employed in a rather self-aware, tongue-in-cheek sort of sense. And sure, over the years we’ve heard musicians and audiophiles alike groan about this or that Beck album which, in their opinion, failed to transcend its attempt at musical meta-humor and fell into that deep, dark chasm of talentless, try-too-hard nonsense that comprises most of what you hear on the radio. Even if I’ve been occasionally compelled to agree, it’s worth noting that Beck has evolved into a musical pioneer with no interest in following or creating anything reminiscent of a trend. He does what he does, and those who like it come along for a ride.

But this? This is something completely different.

Sure, lots of bands have released source files for their music in recent years, giving the every-man with a basic laptop or mixing console the same chance as professional, established musicians to remix, reboot or otherwise play around with their music. Oftentimes artists found online communities for their remixers, allowing fans to upload, share, and even vote on their favorites. This approach has also been used by some bands to give their fans a chance at making the cut on a supplemental remix album. But that’s yesterday’s news.

This time, Beck is putting the fans (and, according to Beck.com, a select group of musicians other than his own band) entirely in the driver’s seat. Their versions of his new songs will be featured on the McSweeney’s website where the album (if you can even call it that) will go on sale this winter.

And I’m totally on board.

Not only will I be getting out my guitar and trying to remember how to read music, but if I can manage it, I’ll be having friends over to sit down and learn a few of these tunes together, just like the old days. Because honestly, in addition to the lovable quirkiness of such a move, there’s something strangely nostalgic about all this as well.

Images come to mind of sitting in my grandparents’ living room around the holidays while anyone with a whiff of musical talent (and many without) opened a song book and played or sang their favorite carols and standards while the rest of the family either joined in or just enjoyed the scene. It was a community experience, the substance of fond memories, and this, I think, is the facet which has been missing from the vast majority of our twenty-first-century pop-music puppy-mills: Substance.

These days, there’s so much effort put into distracting us from the fact that for the most part, pop-stars can’t so much as carry a tune or rhyme above a third-grade-level, let alone connect with their audience on any meaningful level.

With this bold move, Beck is reaching out to his listeners in the most meaningful of ways, and I’m honestly excited to see how this project takes shape. Talk about trust. It’s like an ever-evolving remix album without any of the originals for reference, and that’s original.

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