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The Grammys: the only award show that would give Kanye an aisle seat, and a place where the appreciation of music can sometimes be turned into a straight up mockery. Wind the clock back a month and it’s safe to say the 2015 awards show did not disappoint. The social media frenzy that unravelled following the 2015 Grammys very quickly brought the world’s attention to the fact that most people were blissfully unaware who the strange, middle-aged, album-of-the-year-winning bohemian Beck actually was. So one year on from the release of Morning Phase, it seems only fair to shine a light on who this dude is and how exactly he managed to swindle the much-coveted Album of the Year.
For those unfamiliar with Beck, let’s just say that he’s been around the block a few times. After a stint in New York as a homeless musician in the late 80s, he started fresh in the early 90s writing cool, LA-inspired folkie music. Unfortunately for Beck, his fairly niche genre just didn’t have a market back then (think Childish Gambino trying to release Kauai in the heat of the 1980s punk era. It just wouldn’t have worked). Two mediocre folk albums later and a frustrated Beck spat out a couple of angsty alt-rock tracks that were only meant to be throwaways. These songs sparked quite the buzz among the Simon Cowells of 1993, and so came to be Beck’s reinvention.
This reinvention was a full 180 from what he had previously released. Remember that grimy, street scum-esque song “Loser”? Yeah well that was Beck. Yes, you heard correct. The weird, furry vest-wearing boho we saw awkwardly approach the stage at the 2015 Grammys was once upon a time the unofficial leader of the 90s slacker movement. The song was born out of the frustration he was facing as a struggling musician trying to get by on minimum wage jobs.
The song very quickly became an anthem for the underappreciated and downtrodden humans of the world and gave Beck the invaluable exposure he’d been so desperately seeking. Two reasonably successful alt-rock albums followed “Loser”, before Beck made a bold move back to the folkie stuff he loved so dearly. The gamble paid off and his music was finally reaching the audiences he’d hoped it would. Despite this continued success, his low-key nature meant that his “celebrity” very quickly demised.
Cue 2014: the year of the full-blown Beck comeback. After a six-year hiatus from recording, Beck released his 12th studio album, Morning Phase. Masked beneath the mellow sound of his “acoustic” album, things are pretty bloody heavy. The interlude tracks “Cycle” and “Morning” are warm like a California sunrise and will undoubtedly lure you in. This mood, however, doesn’t remain quite so light. As the album deepens, so too do the songs. Light-as-a-feather fingerpicking is phased out and an eerie melancholy ensues (see “Phase” and “Waking Light”). Each track adds a layer and everything is in its place for a reason. The lyrics are raw and the recurring references to pain and misery will make you wonder what exactly happened during Beck’s six-year hiatus that led to such an abyss of darkness. Regardless of the underlying themes, it becomes clear very quickly why Morning Phase was crowned Album of the Year—it’s just that good.
If you’re a pretty laxed out person by nature, Beck’s post-1995 stuff will be right up your alley. On the contrary, if you’re highly-strung and struggle to sit still for more than five minutes, I suggest reaching for the new Drake album instead. His works are expertly thought out and arranged to be listened to in full, none of this shuffle-play business. With this in mind, next time you’re feeling particularly calm and ethereal, I recommend sitting down with one of his albums and taking it in in all its glory… because Beck.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BECK
1. He got Kanye’d by Kanye at the 2015 Grammys, only to appear star struck by Yeezy’s presence.
2. He’s a Scientologist.
3. Album of The Year 2015 was his fifth Grammy. The prior awards were well before Gen Y’s time.
4. He was pursued by the creators of Mad Men to compose the theme several times and still said no.
5. His albums Odelay and Sea Change were ranked in Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums of all time.
6. He features in The Lonely Island song “Attracted To Us”.
7. He launched the “Record Club” in 2009, a club where musicians come together and cover an entire album in one day.
8. He contributed a song to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
9. The musical genius that is Beck has actually been lurking around this entire time… we just never noticed.
10. Morning Phase beat out Beyonce. ‘Nuff said.