×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Album Review: Beck’s ‘Hyperspace’

Again moving left of center, Beck and Pharrell Williams find new life in minimalist, cosmopolitan synth-pop.

Veering dangerously close to the atom heart of the mainstream does something to an artist of adventure. It can make a superman weak in its presence, like Kryptonite (it took years and Tin Machine for Bowie to recover from “Let’s Dance”), or build a stronger artist by moving ever more consistently into success’s center square, or its square center (see how Drake’s most recent album, “Scorpion,” is his least abstract and biggest selling).

Such is the story of Beck and his move from ’90s indie-icon, dobro-punk, lo-fi loser and slop-hop master funkateer into the realm of mood-swinging, mainstream rock maker with 2017’s “Colors.” Produced by Greg Kurstin, “Colors” wasn’t anything like Kurstin’s hit albums for Adele, Kelly Clarkson or Pink. “Colors” did, however, hold the key to blunt melodicism, something that genre-jumbling Beck’s more complex tracks of the immediate past lacked.

Benefitting from such melodic directness, yet holding onto the spare but cosmopolitan complexity of albums such as 2002’s “Sea Change” and 2005’s “Guero,” surely became a blueprint for Beck when going into “Hyperspace,” with its principle collaborator Pharrell Williams.

Together, as producers and occasional co-writers, the duo turned “Hyperspace” into a joyfully introspective, minimalistic but sophisticated, contagiously melodic, straight-ahead, analog synth-pop record with a fleeting few of old school Beck’s signature touches — a few raps here, some dobro and harmonica there.

For the most part, Beck is using his lower vocal register to sing quickly spun, contemplative tales to a soundtrack that is equal parts Washed Out and Todd Rundgren during his post-blue-eyed soul phase (that is, the 1973-74 period that found him morphing through the layered synth-asia of “A Wizard/A True Star” into the navel-gazing soft prog of Utopia).

How does “Hyperspace” affect the charts? Who knows? This is the best, most frank and adventurous thing Beck has done since “Morning Phase,” but with a far lighter touch in mood and musicality. Going one step further, it is the wiliest work that Williams has produced outside of his abstract funk-rock NERD agenda. Although you’d hate for Beck and Pharrell to repeat themselves, these guys are good for each other.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Sky Ferreira may sing on it. Kurstin even appears as a co-writer on “See Through,” a willowy soul-hop track with a  breathy high vocal — a yodel, even, at song’s coda — that owes as much to Khalid’s sleek R&B as it does Nick Martinelli’s brand of tapped percussion. No matter. This is all Beck and Pharrell.

Going for unadulterated, understated synth-pop where no song overstays its welcome, Beck moves through an icily airy, glitch-hop start (“Hyperlife”) to get to the bell-tinging, table-knocking “Uneventful Days.” Here, among the doubled-up harmonies (Williams and Beck together?), and pillowy synth clouds, the singer tells of “living in the dark, waiting for the light” and being “caught up in these never-ending battle lines,” until he gets to the second stanza, and a stark insistence: “You might know my name, but you don’t know my mind.”

If Beck’s “Hyperspace” has a quiet mission statement, this is it.

The pulled steel strings, blowsy harmonica, cheesy rat-tat rhythms and flat-line rap of “Saw Lightning” brings us back in time to “Loser”-era Beck — that is, until the pulse grows more undulating, Beck’s vocal flow grows tuneful and a glammy synth wash blows in like a storm. There’s even a Stone Roses-ish feel to this for a moment. That folk-funky feel with its twittering keyboards trickles into the next track, “Die Waiting,” with its slamming drum FX upfront, its acoustic guitar strum below, and a want-you-need-you rap right down the center. It’s galactic hip-hop without being retro or obvious, with a deep hook so subtle, it’s damned near an Easter egg.

To an extent, the hard-to-hold hooks and spaciousness of “Hyperspace” are what makes it so intriguing.

The brief album’s middle section, “Chemical,” “Hyperspace,” “Stratosphere” and “Dark Places,” make up the album’s core. While the finger-snapping double synths of the trippy “Chemical” are pure Rundgren (even down to Todd’s George Harrison guitar obsession), the title tune is cosmic space-age soul of the highest order. So, too, are the divinely lovely (and “Sea Change”-feeling) “Stratosphere” — with Beck backed by Chris Martin’s vocals — and the melancholy “Dark Places.” The latter, a study of epic loneliness, has the feel of flute-y chamber pop, complete with proggy bass lines, a baroque concertina’s tinkle, a phase-shifted bridge and an insular airiness that would make Alan Parsons proud.

By the time Beck and Pharrell get to the last two tracks, they’re all but ready to move aside the moist synth washes and play in another field. What that means is that, on the flickering funk of “Star,” Beck moves into a shaky-voiced lower octave, takes on “falling down the waterfall” with a cocky swagger, and sings atop a squelching synth-bass tone that is as sensuous as it is soul-searching. A more pronounced floppy-boot percussive thump and a deeply burrowing finger-picked guitar makes the finale — the lilting synth-soul of “Everlasting” — a worthy epic. Here, Beck’s voice is at its richest, unfussiest and most masculine, as he approaches life’s existential dilemma with pragmatic aplomb and grace.

“Friends I’ve known / Come and gone / Like a soldier / With no song / Still I tried / To get back home / In the everlasting nothing,” goes the chorus, leaving Beck slightly battered, but still brighter for the experience. Gorgeous.

Beck
“Hyperspace”
Capitol Records

Album Review: Beck's 'Hyperspace'

More Music

  • Andy Gill Dead

    Gang of Four Guitarist and Cofounder Andy Gill Dies at 64

    Andy Gill, guitarist and cofounder of the influential British postpunk band Gang of Four, died today after a brief respiratory illness, according to a statement from the band. He was 64. “Andy’s final tour in November was the only way he was going to bow out; with a Stratoscaster around his neck, screaming with feedback [...]

  • Hard Rock Stadium is shown, in

    Harry Styles Pre-Super Bowl Concert Evacuated Due to 'Severe Weather'

    The ever unpredictable South Florida weather dampened the spirits of several thousand Harry Styles fans on Friday night (Jan. 31) when his pre-Super Bowl concert at Miami’s Meridian at Island Gardens was evacuated due to “severe” conditions. The Pepsi Zero-sponsored show was held just off the coast of downtown Miami. About an hour after Lizzo [...]

  • Spike Lee

    Spike Lee Directing Movie Version of 'David Byrne's American Utopia'

    Spike Lee has signed on to direct a movie based on the Broadway show “David Byrne’s American Utopia” with Participant acting as lead financier and executive producer. River Road Entertainment and Warner Music Group will also co-finance. The film will be produced by RadicalMedia, as well as Byrne’s Todomundo and Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule [...]

  • My Chemical Romance

    My Chemical Romance North American Tour Sells Out in Less Than Six Hours

    After an almost seven-year hiatus, the return of My Chemical Romance arrives on a high note as the band has already sold out its North American tour with 228,600 tickets purchased in less than six hours. The “Make Room” performers thanked their loyal supporters saying, “you’ve worn out all your dance shoes, this time.” The [...]

  • Bernie Taupin and Elton John by

    Bernie Taupin Talks 53 Years with Elton John, 'Rocketman' Song: 'You Do Get Nostalgic'

    There’s no “we” in “I’m Still Standing,” but maybe there should be: The Elton John/Bernie Taupin songwriting collaboration is still on its feet after 53 years, which, in fickle, friendship-dismantling pop years, is about a millennium. They’re nominated together for a best original song Oscar for “I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” and, since they’re the [...]

  • Oscar Carries a Tune: Final Analysis

    Oscar Carries a Tune: Final Analysis of the 2020 Song and Score Candidates

    From the sound of Randy Newman singing “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” to Hildur Guðnadóttir writing the soundtrack to Joker definitely throwing himself away, here’s a last look at the original song and score candidates for the 2020 Oscars — with a few thoughts from the song contenders themselves, as Academy voting opens. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content

茄子aa日记-茄子每日一记