A Vicious Game of Beck and Mouse

Jesse Sears

Musician Beck Hansen’s new album “Modern Guilt” presents the listeners with the soundscapes that push the envelope by combining multiple layers of sound into a single track while rarely losing cohesion. The album went on sale in July under the DGC Records label.

To produce “Modern Guilt,” Beck enlisted the help of Danger Mouse, a veteran of the hip-hop scene who rose to fame as the producer and DJ for Gnarls Barkley.

Danger Mouse is known for combining diverse musical genres into cohesive mixes. He remixed Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with The Beatles’ “The White Album” into a surprisingly effective mash-up known as “The Grey Album.”

Beck departed from his characteristically heavy, crunchy rock sound with “The Information”, released in 2006. He now meanders even farther in a different direction with the “Modern Guilt.” Sparse and minimalist beats lead to a more intimate and introspective sound. A highlight of the record is the mellow end-cut, “Volcano”. It is a meditation on gaining experience, getting older and striving to find one’s true voice: “I’ve been riding on this train so long/I can’t tell if it’s you or me who’s driving us into the ground/I don’t know if I’m sane/But there’s a ghost in my heart who’s trying to see in the dark/I’m tired of people who only want to be pleased/But I still want to please you.”

More upbeat, radio-friendly cuts grace “Modern Guilt” too. The album’s opener, “Orphans,” features Cat Power, also known as Chan Marshall, who harmonizes the choruses in her trademark dreamy voice, though the finer points of Cat Power’s vocals can get lost in the mix if the listener isn’t paying close attention. The song really churns all the way through, and calls to mind classic Beck, before the album delves a little more into the experimental.

Although “Modern Guilt” is consistently cohesive, Beck and Danger Mouse occasionally try to pack so many different sonic bits into a single beat that things get distracting, at times reaching the verge of disharmony. While Beck has never been about the guitar, drums, bass straight-beat driven rock music, the lower points of “Modern Guilt” tend to sound a little too confused.

For those who have followed Beck throughout his career or are fans of Danger Mouse’s deft and diverse production skills, “Modern Guilt” should prove a satisfying sonic treat. Listeners unfamiliar with Beck’s huge body of work may want to start with the more accessible “Mellow Gold” released in 1994, or “Guero” released in 2005. While it could prove a little too spacey for some rock fans and would be better suited for a living room than a club, Beck’s “Modern Guilt” is largely a great success.