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Beck



What to say about Beck Hansen that hasn't already been said? You probably already know about his unlikely rags-to-riches musical odyssey: poor kid from Pasadena with little more than guitar creates postmodern pop pastiche and becomes unofficial (and accidental) king of millennial throwaway culture. In truth though, that much-documented tumultuous upbringing, during which he was exposed to bluegrass through his musician father, hip hop on the streets of Los Angeles, and punk on the streets of New York, has obviously served as a blueprint for everything Beck has done since, helping him become one of the most singular voices in the history of American popular music.

A big part of Beck's appeal is his eclecticism. There's something for everyone in an artist who simultaneously draws form the likes of Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Mississippi John Hurt, and Prince, while retaining his own distinctive voice. That ability to create something bold, exciting, and irreverent from a broad range of identifiable influences is a big part of the reason Beck became such a paradigm for progressive music during the '90s.

Beck also paved the way for unique record deals for independent artists crossing over to a larger audience, like the one recently signed by The White Stripes. After his legendary slacker anthem "Loser" sparked one of the fiercest major label bidding wars of recent decades, Geffen won the day thanks to their willingness to sign him to a deal that allowed him to release records on other labels. It was this arrangement that allowed Beck to release two other albums in 1994 in addition to his seminal major label debut Mellow Gold: the chaotic avant-noise piece Stereopathetic Soul Manure on Pasadena-based Flipside Records and the neo-folk-blues album One Foot in the Grave on Olympia-based K. Anyone who heard all three of these albums (and of course few did, most only knew about Mellow Gold) could have predicted that Beck would have an accomplished and unpredictable career.

And of course that's been exactly the case. From the funky collage art of Odelay to the organic futurism of Mutations to the processed soul of Midnite Vultures to the somber world-weary modern folk of Sea Change, Beck has made believers out of just about all of us. And has of course spawned legions of imitators, probably more than any other artist of the last decade, if for no other reason that that he has created such a breathtakingly wide range of material to imitate. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in Beck's case, it's probably true.

"He's a Mighty Good Leader" is the introduction to One Foot in the Grave. "Halo of Gold" comes from More Oar, the Birdman compilation tribute to the lamentably overlooked now deceased psychedelic bluesman Skip Spence. Beck gives the song typical 21st century Beck treatment, filling it with a smorgasbord of samples, infusing it with the sound of today without sacrificing its timelessness. You can check out additional Skip Spence covers by Tom Waits, Robert Plant, and Mark Lanegan. "Leave Me on the Moon," meanwhile, comes from the soundtrack to the long-shelved indie flick Kill the Moonlight. Beck recorded it on his four-track back in the days before Mellow Gold when he was penniless and unknown. Finally, the resigned "Guess I'm Doing Fine" and the creaky "Lost Cause" provide instances of the mature Beck returning to his roots on his seventh album, Sea Change.