Record #396: Beck – Guero (2005)

For my love of Beck, his section of my shelf is admittedly filled with his least Beckish releases
While Mr. Hansen is a musical chameleon of the highest caliber, he is, first and foremost, a master of irony. Despite being one of the most heartbreaking singer-songwriters in the last twenty years (seriously, spin Sea Change again), that was never an office he sought out. 
He cut his teeth melding underground indie rock with tongue-in-cheek white-boy hip hop, spitting word salad whilst famously accompanied by Two Turntables and a Microphone. But, visionary that he was, he got bored with that formula and sprawled out.
But after the detours of the psychedelic Mutations, the R&B future disco Midnight Vulturesand the tender masterpiece Sea Change, he was ready to reclaim his birthright. 
Geuro (aptly named after the Mexican slang term for “white boy”) is a return to form of the highest caliber (though admittedly, my introduction to Beck was The Information so Geuro was lost on me for a while). “E-Pro” rips right out of the gate with a “Devil’s Haircut” style guitar riff and some word salad rap. “Que Onda Guero” double’s down, upping the hip hop and turning the “make sense” knob all the way down. “Hell Yes” even reintroduces those famous turntables.
But don’t for a second think that Beck’s return to fun means he’s done being a Serious Artist™. On the contrary, this record is enhanced by a number of songs that wouldn’t have felt out of place on the rapless, atmospheric Sea Change
“Broken Drum” is a moseying low tempo ballad augmented with acoustic guitars and rich ambient textures. “Earthquake Weather” is a slowed down funk tune that’s as tender as it is sexy. “Girl” is one of the finest pop tunes he’s ever done.
And while I might have been tempted early on to think of this album as The Information in larval form, there’s no denying that Guero stands tall on its own two legs as a shining gem of Beck’s already pretty shiny discography.

Record #395: The Juliana Theory – Love (2002)

As I’ve said a few times before, music is my most powerful mnemonic. A few albums are completely stuck in a specific place in time, with their own scenes and smells irrevocably attached.

This is one of those albums. It came out the same time that I started driving, and this CD (alternating with So Long Astoria) was stuck in the CD player in my mom’s Chrysler Town and Country minivan. It was a rainy month, so the smell of damp constantly filled the car…
​The Juliana Theory had already had a significant influence on me as a person—they taught me to sing and dress. Love doubled down on that. It wasn’t as personally revelatory as Understand This is a Dream, but it didn’t have to be. It asserted itself as a masterpiece upon first listen.

And it holds up. From the opening riffage of “Bring it Low” to the blissful balladry of “Jewel to Sparkle” to the epic rock sprawl of “Everything,” TJT didn’t waste a single second of tape on this record. Every track is a gold mine. 

The reason it’s most effective is most likely because, despite being the standard bearers of the emocore, Bret, Chad, and the Joshes* frequently reached outside of its (somewhat narrow) palette. This record frequently dips into Floydish prog (”In Coversation” and “The Hardest Things”), emotive classic rock (”Shell of a Man”), U2 arena rock (”Trance,” ”Do You Believe Me?” and frequent electronic textures (the remake of ”Into the Dark,” “DTM”).

All of this makes an album that sounds way more timeless and relevant than a record a couple months from its fifteenth anniversary. 

*on this album, THREE of the five members were named Josh