WHITE BOY BECK ABSORBENT AS EVER, SPEAKING FROM THE BARRIO TO THE POP CHARTS.
An artist like Beck could only exist in a world where Latinos love Morrissey, American kids love Japanese animation and the seeming entirety of music's history is available on the screen of a glowing laptop. Anime, Moz and all that music on your iTunes might be steeped in a culture of a specific time and place, but that doesn't really matter at a time when any culture can be adopted and worn like a jersey, when authenticity is a joke and only jokes are authentic. And Beck is the ultimate cosmic joke. He is, as the Spanish slang that adorns his latest release attests, a white boy (or guero); a baby-faced innocent without a culture creating an image of his own out of the scraps of others, absorbing everything around him. And he does it with such ease that it seems as though anyone could accomplish the chameleonlike feat. On his latest, those scraps meander from sincere doe-eyed rumblings that could fit on Beck's last release, Sea Change, in "Missing" to the West Coast rap "Hell Yes" to dark western ballad "Farewell Ride" and L.A. barrio rap "Qué Onda, Guero?" to the album's highlight, a glitzy electro-ode to summertime pop, "Girl." And, with the help of the Dust Brothers, the songs all sound fantastic, layered with beefy guitars, vinyl-play and a matured, confident delivery from Beck. And then there are honks, jangles, hand claps and all the other touches that lend Beck's productions a fanciful edge and have egghead music geeks scrambling to figure out where Beck found that sound. It's hard to blame them: Beck's music demands to be understood, although it really never will be by anyone. It also demands you dance like you own the place, which, the diminutive musician has shown, anyone can do. (Mark Baumgarten)
End of Love (Spin Art)
CLEM SNIDE PISSES IN THE WELL, BUT THE WATER STILL TASTES PRETTY GOOD.
It's not that the latest Clem Snide album, End of Love, isn't good. It is. It's just that it poses more questions than answers, the most burning of which being whether it's OK to open an album with an epic pop masterpiece. The answer, which the reader is encouraged to imagine printed upside down at the bottom of the page: "Only if you can back it up."
The opening title track is damn close to a perfect pop song. Perfect length (3 minutes, 50 seconds), perfect balance of wit and emotion, perfect guitar tone. Frontman Eef Barzelay has a commanding voice that's always wavering between condescendingly confident and outright desperate. The drums kick, the guitar jangles. Then, two minutes in, everything stops. Barzelay takes a deep breath and says, "The first book every killer reads is Catcher in the Rye." That's when the horns come in. That's when your eyes get wide.
Most of the songs on End of Love shine. From the dreamy, country-tinged "Fill Me with Your Light," on which Barzelay's voice acquires some twang to go with the motif, to "Jews for Jesus Blues," a folksy number centered on the chorus "Now that I'm found, I miss being lost." Barzelay is a unique and talented songwriter who often arrives at sincerity via the ridiculous. But he sometimes gets a little too confident. On "The Sound of German Hip-Hop," he meanders along in Bob Dylan fashion. But Bob Dylan he ain't. The song winds up sounding shallow and show-offy. There is something to be said for a group trying to avoid being pinned to a genre, but when Clem Snide ventures into look-we're-funky territory while singing "You make me want to break something beautiful," it'll probably make you want to skip back to the first song. It almost spoils a damn good album. (Casey Jarman)