Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beck

Odelay Deluxe Edition (Geffen)

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Until Beck Hansen released Odelay in 1996, he was a one-hit wonder: In the period when indie-rock was making its way onto the pop charts, his “Loser” was one of its iconic novelty songs. Odelay informed listeners that Beck was to be taken seriously, although he didn’t actually sound like he intended to be.

Twelve years later, the double-disc deluxe version of Odelay has it the same two ways. It bulks up the original release with plenty of bonus material, but spurns reverent, meaningful liner notes in favor of consciously rambling reminiscences—at least that’s what they might be—from Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, and variously irrelevant and intriguing opinions on the album from 15 teenagers interviewed by writer Dave Eggers.

The album itself remains sui generis, incorporating a borrowing-and-sampling aesthetic derived from hip-hop, with a record collection that ranged from The Frogs to Them, from Dick Hyman to Antonio Carlos Jobim; a lean rock ‘n’ roll attitude enhanced by the technological savvy of the Dust Brothers’ co-production; and the rambling verbosity of certain folk-music strands—including the Dylanesque ability to make people wonder if he’s putting them on. Yet Odelay wasn’t quite so revolutionary as Highway 61 Revisited: It generated its share of copycats and inspired its share of deliberately eclectic artists, but most other “alternative” artists reached the mainstream by sounding not all that different from what was already there.

The snappy groove and postmodern decadence of “The New Pollution,” the buzzing garagerock (or airplane hangar-rock) of “Devil’s Haircut” and the shuffling tumbleweed country blues of “Ramshackle” would stick out even more now than they did then.

Beck himself has, of course, drunk deeply from this fountain again and again, expanding on the ideas not just of Odelay but of its many Bsides (collected here): A straight acoustic version of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman,” recorded at Sun Records, could’ve been the genesis of 1998’s Mutations and 2002’s Sea Change, while the breeziness of “Electric Music and the Summer People” now seems like a marker for 1999’s Midnite Vultures.

Odelay
marks a moment when an unusual musician could sell 2 million copies. That moment didn’t last, but the album did, and so did its creator. —Jon M. Gilbertson

Hounds Tooth
This recording doesn’t create a new sound, and for that we’re thankful—especially at a time when so much music goes to extremes for its own sake, but forgets about the basics. The debut by Milwaukee’s Hounds Tooth is an exciting recording with a sensibility that should be heeded by many bands trying to push the edge.

It’s simply honest music that never becomes overwrought. Tunes by John Lee Hooker (“Boom Boom”) and Amos Blackmore (“Little By Little”) receive earnest attention. The seven original songs are competent though the lyrics drop into tedium, taking down what otherwise would be exquisite writing because the music flies so high. But, it has to be noted, we are in a tradition where lyrics are not the point anymore. It’s the feeling of them that matters. And there’s plenty of feeling no matter how many times we’ve heard the themes.

Steve Cohen’s production is outstanding for its organic qualities, making each song come alive. Jamie Brace’s voice is gutsy and melodic without sacrificing grit. The guitars come through like a buzz-cut dream. Hounds Tooth is a band that always has a reference point in the blues. They also know how to hear an old idiom with a new ear.

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