Review: ‘Colors’ by Beck

Much like the chocolate boxes of Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re going to get when it comes to Beck (unlike chocolate boxes in real life, which are clearly labeled). He’s a tough artist to pin down: a rapper, an Americana singer, a low-key alternative rocker. Beck doesn’t so much think outside the box as he just lives outside it, and it’s made his career an exciting one to follow. Beck’s previous album, Morning Phase, found harmony between understated acoustic guitar plucks and the uneasy ambiance of soaring strings. All in all, the 2014 album stood out as one of Beck’s finest achievements, which created an ineludible disadvantage for this year’s follow-up Colors.

In contrast to Morning Phase, Colors is exuberant and rejuvenative. Consider Beck’s career at the time—2008’s Modern Guilt officially fulfilled Beck’s record contract with Interscope Records, and he would remain without a record label for nearly seven years. Morning Phase, released under Capitol Records, was Beck’s triumphant return to the music scene, and the large-scale success of the album (including a Grammy win for Album of the Year) kickstarted a second phase of Beck’s career.

“There was a very strong positive feeling that was happening while we were making [Colors], this renewed appreciation and affection for playing music,” Beck told NME earlier this month. And renewed he sounds, with sprightly warmth and buoyant spirit nestled in his vocal chords, a far cry from the unflappable slacker messiah of the ‘90s. Colors is, first and foremost, a splashy dance rock record, something Beck has never really done before. But unlike most of his albums, what’s fresh for Beck isn’t necessarily fresh overall; Colors is catchy and glossy, but it gets by far more on Beck’s talents as a performer than a songwriter.

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Review: ‘Sleep Well Beast’ by The National

Upon listening to Sleep Well Beast, I recalled Roger Ebert’s memoir Life Itself, in which he refers to cinema as “a machine that generates empathy.” Music generates empathy in much the same way, generally on a more personal scale. Considering how intrinsic sadness is to the process of empathy, most music artists will, at some point or another, bare the moroseness of their soul for the sake of their art.

But some artists can outright weaponize melancholy. It’s something The National have done for years, and against all odds, it’s always managed to work in their favor. The band’s songwriting has consistently struck a powerful balance between despair and heart; even at its lowest emotional depths, their work is as animated as it is devastating. The result is a discography that, though not entirely heterogenous due to its repeated emphasis on themes of heartbreak and anguish, wholly explores dysphoria’s every angle, theme, and sound. It’s how The National have remained relevant all these years, and it’s why, even on their seventh album, they haven’t lost any steam in their empathy machine.

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