Beck's Return to Rapping with "Wow"

Beck continues to take on new styles by creating a pop/rap summertime anthem.

With so many greats in the world of music passing and so much new talent coming from the Internet for their 15 minutes, it's fair to wonder who will be the ones to adapt to the times and stay around to make a life's worth of music. With much of the '90s crowd broken up, re-branded or withered into obscurity, it may seem like Radiohead is one of the only to continue to put out records whenever they want, using whatever instruments they want and charging whatever they want. But they wouldn't be alone because Beck has shown that he can go from country, to rock and roll, to funk, and create records that ebb and flow with the emotional current of tears (Morning Phase).

Breaking out with “Loser”, Beck created an anthem for the disenfranchised youth of suburban America with a catchy chorus, rapped verse and a drum sample from “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” by Johnny Jenkins. Shortly after “Loser", his record Odelay would get the Grammy for best alternative music performance and earn him respect that would be sustained when Morning Phase was given the Grammy for Album of the Year, despite having the lowest sales numbers of any record in its category. With its soft drums, echo-chamber vocals and atmospheric approach that answered what it would sound like if Cocteau Twins produce an alt-country record, Morning Phase repeated themes from Sea Change but in a way that was new and it worked more cohesively song to song.

Since then, Beck has released two singles. In June of 2015, the funky song “Dreams” came out with a sound that caught the drift of MGMT so closely that it would have come off as plagiary if it wasn't such a perfect piece of cotton candy pop. Now, Beck takes on the ubiquitous sound of modern party pop-rap built around a minimal amount of looped samples, rapped verses and enthusiastic choruses. On paper, it sounds as odd and uncharacteristic as “Dreams”, but god-damn-it if Beck doesn't show Iggy Azalea, Nikki Manaj and all the other twitter-feuding rap/pop personalities how to do it right.

It's hard to miss Beck's sense of humor when listening to the lyrics of songs in Odelay and Midnight Vultures. Because of that, it's impossible to know if he's seriously interested in making music in different styles or if he's just deconstructs the skeleton of modern sounds to see if he can't build a better one. From the very beginning, a tone that travels like a slide whistle makes a listener wonder if it's Beck or some weird joke. The slide whistle loops, a kick drum comes in and Beck's “Giddy Up, Giddy Up” queues a drum roll and click track beat for the whistle to spin around. Then, Beck starts to rap all over it: “Wanna move into a fool's gold room / With my pulse on the animal jewels / Of the rules that you choose to use to get loose / With the luminous moves / Bored of these limits, let me get, let me get it like,” before the repeated chorus of: Wow! / It's like right now / It's like wow!”

By the time the second verse/set of bars finish with “Standing on the lawn doin' jiu jitsu / Girl in a bikini with the Lamborghini shih tzu", it's obvious Beck still has his sense of humor. Soon, the chorus's “it's like wow” becomes the only appropriate reaction to the song itself because you realize Beck's doing what he does best -- working around genres in spite of their limitations and with their cliches, which he includes with an uplifting message that turns the song into summer anthem gold: “It's your life/You gotta try to get it right/Look around, don't forget where you came from/It's just another perfect night/We're gonna take it around the world.”

Is Beck playing with styles that people would never guess interest him for the fun of it? Is he focused on creating one summer hit after the other? Is he just seeing if he can change with the times? It's unclear. What is for certain is that Beck doesn't seem to be slowing down and doesn't have any trouble keeping up with the rest of the airwaves.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.