December 11, 2009

albums of the decade (I)

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be celebrating my favourite albums of the decade by writing introspectively about them. What else are blogs for?

Beck - Sea Change (DGC), 2002

I was in grade 11 when Sea Change finally arrived at our town's local record store. I had been streaming it online months before its release (I was on the website mailing list, so I stayed up to date with my Beck news). The tracks were released slowly. A new song was added every week and because you had to listen cumulatively, I quickly developed a strong attachment to this album. It wasn't just the brooding, heartbroken posture Beck was milking; it also had to do with the album's entire aesthetic: from the blurry pastels of the album art, to the subdued strings that accented Nigel Godrich's ingenious production.

I remember the day perfectly. My friend Pete and I were sitting in our lounge at school and decided to drive to the record store over our break to pick up the new Beck album. Pete was surprised. This wasn't the Beck of Odelay or Mellow Gold. This guy's clearly gone through some seriously rough times. I remember Rolling Stone or Spin (at this point I was totally immersed in bland music journalism) calling it Beck's After the Goldrush. I liked this label, and I think I still do, considering Young and Beck are two of my favourite songwriters.

The album got mixed reviews, but even those who at first dismissed it are now recognizing it as one of the decades best, and I couldn't be happier that I happened upon Sea Change when I did. The dancing strings of "Paper Tiger" are undeniablely stylish, "Lonesome Tears" is one of the most sweeping breakup anthems I've ever heard, and "Little One" ends the album with an unexpected burst of momentum. Some may complain that this "sad bastard music" is slow and depressing, but I think Beck's fourth album was a creative breakthrough and Sea Change remains one of his strongest (and easily his most cohesive) albums to date.

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