Like most Beck fans, I was turned on to the cryptic chameleon when I first heard Odelay in '96. Though it's probably considered his most mainstream effort, save the post-breakup lament of 2002's Sea Change, it's one of his most dynamic, beat-packed and outlandish releases. Yet, the thing with Beck is that he keeps going, regardless of the direction. Sure, that's a fairly exciting thing when you've been a fan of a musician for so many years; but unless you're in it for the long haul, it can become a little tiring. After contemplating the '60s psych-twinged alt-pop of 2008's Modern Guilt, I worried that Beck was running out of steam, trying desperately to retain some semblance of the alternative cool that propelled him to stardom at the peak of '90s weirdness. But Beck's new single “I Won't Be Long” gives me hope.
Beck is supposedly releasing two albums this year (one acoustic and one that is described as a “proper follow-up” to Modern Guilt). Though speculation seems to be the way it goes with Beck until a physical album finally manifests in our radio speakers. However the single signals the more well-rounded sound that was present on 2006's The Information, one of Beck's better releases, if I do say so myself. Keeping a steady, atmospheric pace, the production is clean, organized and surprising all at the same time. You can also check out another recent single “Defriended,” below. This one sees Beck riding an elastically equipped beat, churning out rhythmic synth melodies and echo-singing through it all.
The thing about Beck—what often gets lost on people—is that you have to embrace his weirdness. You have to take his word for it that with each direction, he's going to guide you somewhere safely, fuck with your head a little bit, but have you back before dark so your parents don't worry. Take for instance his Song Reader album, released last year. The album consists of 20 songs in sheet music form. So if you want to hear it, you have to learn how to play it or find someone who can. Although if you spend a good enough amount of time on the interwebs, you can find live videos of Beck playing the album live for the first time in London on July 4.
If there's one criticism that I've heard about Beck, it's that he's constantly recycling his old tricks, using stark lyrics, slick production and quirky beats to relay the same old messages but in different words and rhythms. But what do you expect? The guy's released 10+ albums in the span of two decades. Does that not grant him a little room on experimenting with his experiments, even if they turn out similar results? Does not one gleam of inspiration immediately relay toward another spark of awakening? I'm getting carried away. All I'm saying is that if this single is anything, it's an indicator that Beck is still creating interesting work, and 2013 may just be the year that he releases another (if not two other) substantial album(s). Play on.