Aug 17

Beck: “Chemtrails”


I have absolutely nothing funny to say about this cover image. And I feel modern-ately guilty about that.

Well, I hope you’ve all had a good summer — mine has been remarkably blog-post free. Two months! Kind of mirroring the summer rainfall we’ve been (not) having in the Seattle area.

Not that I’ve been having a music drought, by any means — I’ve been attending a few concerts, trying to dig up new music to enjoy, and as always, going back to old favorites. And with the release of Beck’s latest single, “Dear Life,” last Thursday, I’ve been able to do all three with Beck, since I also went to see him with my wife and sons on Friday at Marymoor Park in Redmond. I hadn’t seen Beck in concert since the Midnite Vultures tour back in 2000, and although his stage moves may be a little less high-energy these days, he didn’t disappoint. His voice is still sounding great, he’s still a genre-diving oddball (an “oddball” in the best sense of the word, of course), and if anything he’s become a more genial oddball as he has aged. While at times he can come across as a bit detached, Friday he seemed genuinely happy to be there (musing at one point how the beautiful, woodsy setting of the Marymoor Park stage made him feel like he was performing in Sweden, which, as the sunlight dimmed and the strings of lights came on, seemed like an apt comparison) and chatted about his affection for and connections to Seattle more than once. As an added bonus (for me, anyway), Jason Falkner (a great songwriter and performer on his own) was in attendance as Beck’s guitar sideman.

Beck played a selection of songs that covered most phases of his career, once again underscoring just how good he is at trying his hand at a new genre of music and succeeding on his own terms. Much like Prince (a comparison that always feels apt to me, and that I made the last time I wrote about Beck in January 2012), he has a natural ear for pulling out the defining threads of a musical genre and applying it to his own sonic palette, mostly with fascinating results. As in the song I’ve chosen to highlight today: “Chemtrails,” from his 2008 album, Modern Guilt. It’s a psychedelic humdinger (I don’t get to use that word much), although as it begins, you’d think of it more as an early Pink Floyd-esque psychedelic folk drone (the bass tone very much heads in that direction). But then the phase-shifting, John Bonham-cum-Keith Moon drums kick in (courtesy of longtime Beck drummer, Joey Waronker — who may have never had such a showcase for his talents), and it becomes truly majestic, with Beck’s vocals taking flight alongside well-timed piano strikes. Toward the end, “Chemtrails” begins to fade into the sunset, but then fades back in as a 30-second psychedelic freakout that works to carry the fantastic drumming energy seemingly past the song’s actual end. A neatly wrapped-up ending would have diminished the lasting impact of the song. All in all, it’s unlike any other song in the Beck canon, which is certainly saying something.

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