Sunday, May 1, 2016

20 Years of Odelay

Beck (a.k.a. Beck Hansen, born 1970 as Bek David Campbell) is an American  singer-songwriter with two turntables and a microphone who first rose to popularity with breakthrough single "Loser," a bona fide Gen X anthem in wacky, stream-of-consciousness white boy rap. For many a poseur, that's all they know.  In 1996. He earned great critical acclaim and commercial success with the album Odelay, 20 years ago (still listening). He looks like a mix of Hippie and Amish. He's definitely cooler than you, and probably a lot weirder, too. Beck's mother is model/actress/Warhol Girl, Bibbe Hansen.

Andy and Edie and 13 Year Old Bibbe
Beck's iconoclastic style was influenced early on by his grandfather Al, who, with artists like Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, George Maciunus and even Yoko Ono, was a member of Fluxus and Happening, anti-art, anti-commercial movements that primarily employed collage and found objects in elaborate installations. The Happening movement helped give birth to performance art and even the flash mobs of today. In short, the ethos of these movements was life as art, and Beck was an active teenage participant. In the late 80s and early 90s, Beck often traveled to Germany to visit his grandfather where he collected cigarette butts or candy wrappers for Al's collages. In 1998, grandfather and grandson collaborated on an exhibition of their work together called "Playing With Matches." The track "Readymade" from Odelay refers to Duchamp's theory of art as found object, a style echoed by Beck's field recordings on his earlier albums. No one in rock music ever relied more on found sound. 

Beck has commented that he often arrives at a studio without written lyrics, despite his production’s painstaking and meticulous process. Critics have deemed him one of the most definitive solo artists in Alternative Rock (if not the most influential), with Odelay and Sea Change being among his most acclaimed records. He's married to actress Marissa Ribisi. Beck fall under that one hit wonder category for the uninformed, instead, Beck's twenty plus year career starts with stellar and ends there too, or so we can surmise. Here's the discography through Odelay, which is not just an LP,  it's a responsibility; Odelay is your homework.

Banjo Story (1990)
1992 Demo (1992)
Beck, Like The Beer (1992)
Don't Get Bent Out Of Shape (1992) - A complete demo LP.
Fresh Meat + Old Slabs (1993, unreleased) A birthday gift for Beck's mother, Bibbe Hansen. Bibbe purportedly made cassette copies for fans - kind of like the ancient internet.
Golden Feelings (1993) - A home recording that is widely considered his first album because it was sold at early Mellow Gold era shows. Strange experimental material, and a cult classic. Briefly released on CD on the Sonic Enemy Label in 1999 without Beck's permission. The CDs came packaged with a green slip of paper stating, "EVERYTHING IN THIS BOX IS FALSE."
A Western Harvest Field By Moonlight (1994) - His first 10" EP. Although it has 12 tracks, considered an EP because there are only four songs on it - "Totally Confused," "Gettin' Home," "Lampshade" and "Pinefresh." The remaining 8 tracks are noise experiments. The EP contained a yellow sticker that said, "Original Finger Painting Enclosed." [Anyone got one?] There's an address on the jacket with an address, 853 alta vista #9, los angeles, california, 90046, (213) 919-4269 (in lower case; commas added) and the catalog N0. 002. 
Stereopathetic Soulmanure (1994) - Lo-fi, country and folk-influenced material, quite different from what he made his name with. This was the earliest album of his to be released on CD, a week before Mellow Gold was released. Known for the song "Rowboat" which Johnny Cash later covered. Loads of sound effects, including my fave, vacuuming.
One Foot In The Grave (1994) - Another lo-fi, folky album. 
Studio Albums:
Mellow Gold (1994) - The debut of Beck's famous Alt Rock Genre-Busting style. A.K.A. "the One with "Loser." 
Odelay (1996) - Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, produced by The Dust Brothers. Widely considered his masterpiece.