As musical swerves go, the one Beck made between 1999’s Midnite Vultures – a tongue-in-cheek day-glo mashup of soul, funk and Prince – and 2002’s Sea Change – a set of introspective, heartbroken acoustic-guitar songs – takes some beating. But the detour wasn’t solely with out signposting; Beck had revealed a extra subdued, traditional-folk facet to his songwriting on 1998’s Mutations and glimpses of it earlier than that, saying in an interview on the time of Sea Change’s launch: “There are threads of what I’ve accomplished earlier than. In the event you take heed to my earlier B-sides, you’ll hear this file. I’ve been eager to make this file for years.”
Whereas some critics had turn out to be more and more irritated by Beck’s eclecticism, there was to be no burying of his singer-songwriter aspirations beneath layers of genre-hopping sonic trickery with Sea Change. The file hyperlinks its songs collectively into one coherent sonic environment all through – fairly an achievement, contemplating it was masterminded by an artist who not often sounds the identical for 2 bars, not to mention 12 songs. The album’s consistency was helped by Beck’s reliance on a trusted core band of musicians together with bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, drummers James Gatson and Joey Waronker, keys participant Roger Joseph Manning Jr and guitarist Smokey Hormel, with the idea for lots of the tracks being recorded stay in LA’s Ocean Manner studios.
In addition to producing Mutations, producer Nigel Godrich had lately overseen Radiohead’s transition from guitar-centric alt-rock to expansive, electro-influenced art-rock between 1997’s OK Laptop and 2000’s Child A. For Sea Change, he was entrusted with taking Beck’s sound in the wrong way: away from the futuristic kaleidoscope of digital influences that collided on Midnite Vultures, to focus Beck’s manic creativeness on crafting sonic particulars round a bedrock of extra conventional, performance-based devices.
The sound of the room, the manufacturing and engineering selections, the standard of the enjoying and the apparent work that went into the preparations all play their half in making Sea Change an incredible-sounding file. From the majestic strummed acoustic that opens the file onwards, it’s typically cited as a benchmark hi-fi recording, with enormous dynamic vary between its punchy low finish and heat and ethereal reverbs. All through, the nuances of Beck’s bitter, lovelorn vocal performances particularly are captured completely, making him appear to whisper confessionally in your ear.
Whereas the songs are deliberately easy and direct, the orchestration of devices and results is something however. That is most likely why Sea Change was in contrast on its launch to artists with little or no in frequent other than their mastery of melancholy, with critics drawing comparisons to Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, amongst others.
Strumming the heartstrings
We’re right here to speak guitars, after all, and Sea Change makes use of the six-string to its fullest to create environment and intensify the emotional cost of the songs, using every thing from clear acoustic choosing to effects-lathered experiments to convey the message.
Opener The Golden Age defines the soundscape: bare strummed guitars distinction with ghostly vocal reverbs courtesy of Ocean Manner’s studio plates, whereas pedal-steel-esque licks, glockenspiel and flickering washes of results, organ and gritty country-electric traces flare up and drift away into the space.
Paper Tiger is extra experimental, contrasting swooping, dramatic strings with uncovered unison bends and scrapes from Jason Falkner’s clear electrical guitar in a brilliantly bodily efficiency that ends in a screech of suggestions, earlier than Guess I’m Doing Nice takes the electrical guitar to the opposite finish of the harshness spectrum altogether. Guitarist Smokey Hormel elevates the mournful acoustic ballad with a full repertoire of quantity swells, modulation-soaked melodies, harmonics and arpeggios, coating the track in tender country-flavoured heartbreak with out ever as soon as getting in the way in which of the lyric.
Guess I’m Doing Nice was the album’s second single, however Misplaced Trigger was its first: on preliminary pay attention, it’s seemingly a easy association consisting of a catchy descending chord development made up of simple cowboy chords and little else. Nevertheless it’s actually a symphony of texture, adorned all through by surreal reverse-vocal results and superbly judged acoustic and electrical guitar elaborations from Smokey Hormel, and an incredible demonstration of how you can layer components to create a deceptively advanced wall of sound.
Hormel brings his huge expertise as a session participant to the fore on Sea Change, knitting the album’s general sound along with characterful acoustic and electrical components. Finish Of The Day finds him weaving introspective acoustic slide out and in of the keys and clavinet; It’s All In Your Thoughts combines skeletal acoustic choosing with cello, electrical arpeggios, banjo, synth and extra; Already Lifeless has Beck and Hormel enjoying just about similar, intricate open-G components, one in every speaker, completely synchronised, whereas Sunday Solar’s fundamental riff pairs insistent pedal-note acoustic and piano with eerily discordant outcomes, earlier than wilfully vandalising the entire thing with wild slashes of electrical guitar.
Little One provides a change of tempo and a change again to Jason Falkner, who underpins its Bowie-esque alt-rock balladry with muscular distorted electrical sonics and house echo. Lastly, nearer Facet Of The Highway, that includes Smokey Hormel’s hopeful, emotionally charged, Ry Cooder-esque acoustic slide enjoying complemented by upright bass, is the album’s most stark and traditional-sounding monitor, its uncluttered manufacturing superbly capturing the in-the-room really feel.
Satan within the element
“I wished these songs to be extra direct, I’m not making an attempt to reinvent one thing essentially, simply write a great easy track that would’ve been written 40 years in the past or in 40 years,” Beck informed World Cafe on the time of the album’s launch. Almost 20 years on, Sea Change sounds as poignant as ever and is a daily contender in ‘greatest breakup album’ lists: Rolling Stone referred to as it his Blood On The Tracks. But for all its simplicity and directness, there’s a lot sophistication and a spotlight to element in its supply that rewards repeat listens. As an train in creating magnificence out of desolate circumstances, Sea Change is a masterwork and simply Beck’s most timeless album.
Beck, Sea Change (Geffen, 2002)
- Beck Hansen, vocals, guitars, percussion, synth, glockenspiel, banjo, harmonica, keys, string association
- Smokey Hormel, guitars, percussion, backing vocals, bamboo saxophone, megamouth, piano, tape recorder
- Justin Meldal-Johnsen, bass, percussion backing vocals, glockenspiel, guitar, piano
- Roger Joseph Manning Jr., keys, backing vocals, percussion, banjo, glockenspiel, harmonium
- Joey Waronker, drums, percussion, backing vocals, beatbox
- James Gadson, drums
- Jason Falkner, guitar, backing vocals, percussion
- David Campbell, string association, conducting
- Nigel Godrich, manufacturing, keys, percussion, string therapy
- Suzie Katayama, cello
- Darrell Thorp, assistant engineering