Before we assess the reinterpretations, let’s revisit the source:
Guero, Beck’s eighth studio record in 11 years, was largely misunderstood and misrepresented upon its release earlier this year. It was pigeonholed as an amalgam of his past releases, essentially “summing up” his genre-bending streak of musical identity crises (an understandably premature reaction to somehow define its place in our organizationally obsessed minds). It was insulted as a kinder, gentler, less interesting “Version 2.0” of Beck’s 1996 breakthrough album Odelay (when, in fact, Guero is a darker, denser, and infinitely more fascinating version of Odelay, perhaps even so much that it replaces its predecessor with renewed relevance). Worst of all, Guero was passed over as a record of little importance, as if its creator had shed the last of his shape-shifting skins and was frantically pawing through the sun-stained carcasses to glean some recycled inspiration.
If these predetermined truths about Guero are finally via hindsight or a less prejudiced examination exposed as falsehoods, then how can we expect to identify it? Perhaps a complicated definition is best, one as convoluted and eclectic as the record itself: A blues record for the space age that drops its scrapyard worries like overheated buckshot, populated by violent subversions (“Girl”) and recognitions of mortality (“Earthquake Weather”), wrapped up all-too-snugly in pop culture quilts. In other words, it’s a mutable work that resounds in pasts and futures. And you can dance to it.
Let’s splinter Guero‘s tenable demarcations even further by absorbing Guerolito. Guerolito‘s superficial definition: a track-by-track remix of Guero, perpetrated by a wily assortment of remixers and reassembly types. By transferring the source material’s original concepts into new contexts (some fascinating, others only marginally successful), Guerolito offers now-familiar songs at new angles and among sundry accompaniment. It also boasts the inclusion of “Clap Hands” (one of three tracks here originally available on the Guero deluxe edition), a panting groove tempest that treats infectiousness like it’s an illegal substance worth indulging in.
The most admirable remixes are those that are willing to take risks and challenge the original tracks. “Ghost Life”, Homelife’s remix of “E-Pro”, sucks out the blues riffage, replacing it with horns, banjo, and trembling strings. When the track’s definable riff returns near the end (along with the “na na na” chorus), it’s as an afterthought what had originally served as the track’s hallmark is usurped by suitors. Octet’s remix of “Girl” amps up the song’s menace with an insistent drum pattern and minor key piano. The original’s sinister bubblegum tension is undercut until, in a cut-and-paste train wreck, vocal takes haphazardly flay and flounder. Boards of Canada’s “Broken Drum” and Air’s “Missing” (renamed “Heaven Hammer” here) reveal a deep sadness through lush, cinematic grandiosities. And for unabashed fun, “Ghettochip Malfunction”, 8-Bit’s ass-shaking mechanization of “Hell Yes”, is a downright volatile synthetic rhythm track, the one remix here that actually gives the original a run for its money.
Guerolito fails to impress when a remix doesn’t exactly communicate something new about its chosen song. Diplo’s version of “Go It Alone” (titled “Wish Coin”) distills its blues into reggae accents, but it’s really just a minimalist facsimile. Islands’ “Que Onda Guero” begins with intrigue and promise (a wheezing chord progression ghostly appears where one was not before), but readily dissolves into a rambling surplus of creative indecision. Both Adrock’s “Shake Shake Tambourine” (“Black Tambourine”) and Mario C’s “Terremoto Tempo” (“Earthquake Weather”) are cramped by close-range percussive patterns, rendering the emotional canvases of the originals inconsequential. More plainly put, roughly half of the remixes on Guerolito fail to transcend expectations; that is, they operate as most remixes do.
Perhaps Guerolito isn’t the best place to reevaluate and/or appreciate the finer points of Guero, but then, it’s not purported to be. Think of Guerolito as an addendum or an after-dinner mint the worthwhile offerings it affords will be of most use to the listener who enjoyed the main course.
// Notes from the Road
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