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Today’s desert island disc: Beck, Modern Guilt

Sometimes, it takes me a while to really start to like an artist. Beck is one of those. I have no excuse, really. This — and quite a few of his other records — is a masterpiece of a kind of modern, hip hop/electronica inflected pop. Beck has the same mastery of song craft that someone like Ron Sexmith has but his music is hipper and — it has to be said — more memorable.

Production duties here are handled by Beck and Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse is becoming the standard bearer of a new kind of pop classicism with techniques rooted in a DIY hip hop aesthetic, establishing a signature sound across the records he produces for or with a broad spectrum of artists such as Sparklehorse, Daniele Luppi, Martina Topley Bird or Gnarls Barkley. I’m starting to seek out Danger Mouse albums in the same way I might look for, say, Daniel Lanois (and it’s interesting to note that Danger Mouse is currently collaborating with U2 on an as-yet unnamed album to be released later in 2011).

In a nutshell, what I love about Beck is how he continually affirms that folk and hip hop are both part of the core of American popular music. They fit together beautifully the minute you stop thinking about it too hard. A few years back, David Gray made a big splash with his ‘integration’ between folk and electronic music, but it never quite worked for me. That was a case of someone thinking about it too hard — the whole music industry was in fact thinking about it too hard.

Beck’s career, and this record is just an excellent example, shows what can happen when you don’t overthink it. Folk + hip hop + a little 70s orchestration for hipster cred = 21st century rock ‘n’ roll.

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