Beck has traveled light years from being pegged as a reluctant generational spokesperson when “Loser” metamorphosed from a rejected demo to a ubiquitous smash. Instead he wound up crystallizing much of the post-modern ruckus of the ‘90s alternative explosion, but in his own unpredictable manner: Beck’s singular career has been one that’s seen him utilize all manners and eras of music, blurring boundaries and blazing a path into the future while simultaneously foraging through the past.
Surfacing just as alternative rock went mainstream, no small thanks to his 1994 debut Mellow Gold, Beck quickly confounded expectations with subsequent releases including the lo-fi folk of One Foot in the Grave. But the album that truly cemented Beck’s place in the pantheon was 1996’s multi-platinum Odelay, that touched upon all of his obsessions, providing a cultural keystone for the decade from the indelible hook of “Devil’s Haircut” to the irresistible call and response of the anthemic “Where It’s At.”
From the world-tripping atmospherics of 1998’s Mutations and the florescent funk of 1999’s Midnite Vultures through the somber reflections of 2002’s Sea Change, 2005’s platinum tour de force Guero and 2006’s sprawling The Information, no Beck record has ever sounded like its predecessor. In the interim following 2008’s acclaimed Danger Mouse-produced Modern Guilt, Beck eschewed the typical album/tour/repeat cycle of the music business. Instead, he expanded his creative palette into such multi-media endeavors as a one-time-only live re-imagination of David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” utilizing 160+ musicians in a 360-degree audiovisual production, and the equally unprecedented Beck Hansen’s Song Reader, originally released December 2012 by McSweeney’s as 20 songs existing only as individual pieces of sheet music, complete with full-color original art for each song and a lavishly produced hardcover carrying case (and since reimagined as an actual album with the likes of Jack White, Juanes, Norah Jones, David Johansen, Beck himself and many more featured on the first ever studio recordings of its songs).
Beck’s relentless creative tide continued unabated throughout 2013 with three standalone singles released digitally and on 12-inch vinyl (“Defriended,” “I Won’t Be Long,” Gimme”), custom-created performances for Doug Aitken’s Station to Station series of transient happenings, a run of live shows–touted by reviewers the world over as among the very best of his career–and special Song Reader events in which Beck and eclectic line-ups brought the book to life in unforgettable evenings staged in only a handful of cities including in San Francisco, London, and Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Beck opened 2014 with the 12th–and possibly most well received―album of a peerless career: Morning Phase. Likened by some to a companion piece of sorts to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, Morning Phase featured many of the same musicians who played on that record–and who also accompanied Beck live on a rapturously received world tour supporting the record: Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Joey Waronker, Smokey Hormel, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Jason Falkner. Featuring the hits “Blue Moon” and “Heart Is A Drum” along with instant classics like “Waking Light” and “Wave”, Morning Phase harkened back to the stunning harmonies, classic Californian song craft and staggering emotional impact of that record, while surging forward with infectious optimism.
Morning Phase debuted at #3 in the U.S., selling nearly 90,000 copies in its first week—besting Modern Guilt’s debut week despite the market being down more than 70% since that record’s release six years prior—and generating a rare unanimous chorus of critical acclaim from the likes of THE NEW YORKER (“a triumph… After listening to Morning Phase 50 times, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it… You don’t get many albums like this in your lifetime… I can’t imagine someone who couldn’t find some succor or beauty here”), ROLLING STONE (“an instant folk-rock classic… feels as personal as it does universal”—4 ½ STARS), THE NEW YORK TIMES (“The record’s beauty approaches slowly, floats, surrounds and shuts off external awareness in the brain stem”), NPR (“If we needed any proof that albums still matter in this short-attention-span world, Beck’s flawless 12th album, Morning Phase, is a triumphant testimony”), and more. Morning Phase closed out 2014 atop year-end best lists, with highlights such as #1 Album of 2014 in ESQUIRE (“no album in recent memory taps into our cultural zeitgeist as effortlessly. This is what it sounds like to come to peace with everyday ambiguity and indecision.”) and a slew of others including ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (“Each song swims by with gorgeous melancholy, as though he’d found the only acoustic guitar on the moon”).
Beck rolled into 2015 taking the Album of the Year top honor at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, as well as the prize for Best Rock Album. Morning Phase also won in the Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) category. With three previous Grammy wins to his credit–Two Best Alternative Music Performance award for Mutations and Odelay and one Best Male Rock Vocal Performance award for “Where It’s At”—Beck walked away from attending and performing at the 2015 ceremony with double his previous Grammy tally.
The music has flowed from Beck without pause since: from globe-spanning live shows consistently hailed as the best of Beck’s storied career to the 2015 psych-dance summer jam “Dreams” that NPR hailed as “urgently contemporary and irresistibly vintage,” USA TODAY labelled “a strong contender for song of the summer,” and ROLLING STONE raved “This funky little groove is giving us Midnite Vultures flashbacks in the best way possible.” This creative watershed couldn’t even be confined to Beck’s output under his own name, as evidenced by sublime collaborations including the Chemical Brothers’ “Wide Open” and more recently Flume’s “Tiny Cities.”
In the year since “Dreams” gave Beck his second #1 single at AAA radio (the first being Morning Phase’s “Blue Moon”), nearly every day has been spent feverishly working up sketches at home to be fleshed out with producer Greg Kurstin (coincidentally a veteran of Beck’s live band circa Sea Change). It seemed there was a literal embarrassment of riches from which to carve out the diamond of a new album—but then Beck noticed that a track he’d been demoing at home had “gone viral”… amongst his children and their friends, that playdates were morphing into dance parties punctuated by refrains of “WOW”…
The children have spoken: “WOW,” the latest new taste from Beck’s forthcoming opus, was unveiled to the world June 2, 2016 in all its fluorescent mutant hip hop glory. And accompanying the retro-futuristic earworm was a virtual “WOW” world built with the help of a global collective of creators on Instagram. Beck fans were first tipped off that something “WOW” was coming their way when a clip on the official @beck Instagram rallied them to GIDDY UP. The following day creators and artists from the Instagram community uploaded their unique interpretations of “WOW,” each with an exclusive clip of the song. More than 6 million viewers would check out clips tagged #beckWOW, which are still being shared on Beck.com.
If “Dreams” was the post-Morning Phase party we’d all been waiting for but just didn’t know it until the invite showed up, “WOW” has kicked off the afterparty for the next generation—coming at you live from the future courtesy of Beck. The reaction to “WOW” has been as fast and furious as its release and is joyous and enthusiastic as the song itself:
“The sweetest mix of his lovingly absurdist hip hop side and his slyly gorgeous singer-songwriter side since Odelay”—ROLLING STONE Playlist #1
“Gloriously kooky… a weird-yet-welcome departure, playing with hip hop production and goofy rhymes before regaining its composure on a kaleidoscopic chorus… bring on the full album.”–USA TODAY Song of the Week
“A 2016 version of the bemused surrealist funk of Odelay…has a big, sweet incandescent hook. It’s a great song!”—STEREOGUM
“All hail the return of Party Beck.”—ESQUIRE
“Everything a feel-good song of the summer should be, with layers of hip-hop influence, ironic YOLO shout-outs, and a blissed-out chorus.”—NYLON
“WOW” and “Dreams” will both appear on Beck’s forthcoming 13th studio opus, due out October 21, 2016 on Capitol Records.