By the time you’re reading this it’s technically my third time reviewing this album, but for a damn good reason. The first time was for my own blog but I was unhappy with it, but luckily Casey asked me to review my favourite album from 2019 and I chose ‘Hyperspace’. I live and breathe this album, and Casey giving me that opportunity gave me chance to completely review the album again from scratch. Last December I picked up the indie store exclusive pressing of the album for a Christmas present to myself, because I seriously do love this album. It’s in my personal top 3 albums of all time, and now it’s been released again. But rather than being just a straight up boring re-release, Beck has totally made over his masterpiece and taken it out of this world. Literally.
On August 8th the news broke on Beck’s Instagram account that ‘Hyperspace’ was being reimagined with a collaboration from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long as the project was released on August 12th, and it turned out to be so much more than I expected. We’ve heard of Beyoncé releasing a visual album and now Beck has had a stab at it, but in such a different and unique way to what Beyoncé did. On the homepage of the project’s website it reads that this is an “interstellar journey” featuring never before seen footage, and is “scored to Beck’s Hyperspace”. Reading that last part alone makes me feel like such a proud fan, and makes me think of Beck becoming a conductor of sorts to compose new music to match these images of space. It’s like the music and the album was made for this footage, but I’m pretty sure the visual album idea came after it. Each album track has an accompanying A.I video of unique and individual space missions and explorations, and also features displayed data too. Some examples of the song and footage pairings are: ‘Uneventful Days’ showing Apollo 12 footage; ‘Saw Lightning’ showing the Curiosity rover; and ‘Dark Places’ showing the Hubble Space Telescope.
Brand new themed merch has been released in conjunction with the visual album, but sadly a DVD release hasn’t been announced to be happening (yet). You can pick up a water bottle, various t-shirts with planets and data on, or even a woven blanket! But beware as I think these are only available to US fans, unless you want to pay a hefty shipping fee. Brand new and limited edition records of ‘Hyperspace 2020’ were announced too, which feature updated song mixes and two bonus tracks. There are two pressings of the album, one being a standard black vinyl with a holographic jacket and 24 page booklet and the other a picture disc vinyl, and are due to be released this December and next January, but right now you can indulge yourself in the digital version of the album which features four bonus tracks as opposed to the physical editions only having two bonus songs.
The second announcement of the project mentioned unreleased tracks which led me to think there would be an abundance of songs that didn’t make the album, but sadly that wasn’t the case which made me a little sad. But once I got over myself I was actually really excited to hear these bonus songs and alternate mixes of the album tracks. Over on my own blog I have previously delved into bootleg Adam Ant recordings and compared the earlier demo versions as closely as possible to the final released versions. One of the most interesting things for me as both a consumer and creator of music myself is hearing different versions of the same song. I’m not talking about club mixes, but early versions and alternate takes. Hearing the song develop from its earliest incarnations and going through the creative process to the final version fascinates me, and often you can hear the tiniest changes that make so much difference; vocals get taken out, melodies are changed and anything can be added. It’s like listening to an artist in a creative playground, going from the swings to the slide to the roundabout, trying to figure out what they like the most and what they think sounds sounds the best. But the idea of the 2020 mixes of some previous ‘Hyperspace’ songs have me so curious. Has Beck completely made these songs sound entirely different? Or has he just made the small changes? It’s been a while since I’ve heard ‘Hyperspace’ last, as it’s such a special album to me that I wanted to hear it again under special circumstances. I’m glad that this release has given me the perfect excuse to return to it after so long.
Die Waiting: Immediately I could hear the difference in this song. It’s got such a more minimalistic arrangement to it as opposed to the initial version, and let’s all the elements of the song breathe and play out. It sounds like some instruments from the previous version have been taken out, so now we get the guitar and Beck’s vocals pushed to the forefront of the track over a basic drumbeat. There’s a few things going on in the background with keys and effects, but that just adds to the atmosphere of the track and the album. It feels like this mix is much more expansive and less cluttered than the first, where each instrument takes you from section to section and you can sit and appreciate each one individually.
See Through: This was one of my favourite songs from the original album and means a lot to me. Beck’s vocals were so catchy and the percussive beat mixed with the electronics created such an otherworldly atmosphere, which is thankfully maintained here. Something different on this new mix is that the last words on the line “I feel so ugly when you see through me” echo out a bit, which created the image in my mind of his words transforming into a bright star and shooting off through the night sky. This track maintains that more minimalist approach — no doubt inspired by Pharrell and his co-production on the original which Beck spoke highly of in an interview — which makes the song feel a lot more bare, but it works in a strange way.
Hyperspace: One of the biggest features of the title track on the original version was the constant heavy drumbeat which went all through the song, and here that’s been changed to be a lot less prominent. The new mix of this track is so different to the initial one, and has so many things added to it and changed to the point it feels like an entirely new song. There’s new vocals, new electronics and I think even some guitar added to the intro of the song which starts off a lot different to the previous version. I was expecting that drumbeat to begin immediately but something more atmospheric and melodic began the song before the beat came in, then faded away with new backing vocals swirling around it.
Star: Other reviews of this song compared it to Prince, and to be honest, I can see where they’re coming from. For some reason I can hear 1995 Prince — or should I say O(+> — in the song, I don’t know why but I can hear this song fitting perfectly into ‘The Gold Experience’. This mix follows the same trend of the previous mixes in transforming it into a much more minimalistic arrangement in comparison to the original, and I also hear a few additional vocals in this one. My favourite moment in the entire track is the tiny little “woo” that Beck gives out toward the end of a verse. At the start Beck’s vocals are accompanied by just the thick bassline before all the other instruments slowly come in one by one, then a distorted guitar starts to erupt and wail throughout just as the original does.
Dark Places — Soundscape: The first of the unreleased songs is short but sweet, and is an entirely different composition to the original studio version. It’s littered with Beck’s vocals, which sound like they’re filtered backing vocals from the original track, and it’s not until at about halfway through the song that any resemblance to the original is heard. The track is definitely a soundscape in the essence that it feels like it has layers that just loosely build and build upon each other before the main subject, the melody from ‘Dark Places’, gives you a sense of direction. It also sounds like an ambient interlude that could easily be used in the background of a digital project, or as the segue between two other songs. It does make me wonder if this was the original state of ‘Dark Places’ before it became the song it was eventually released as.
I Am The Cosmos (42420): Beck shared a video with us on social media a few months back, where he was sat on a balcony under a blue sky just him playing and singing. It’s honestly no word of a lie that literally only a few weeks ago the video came to my mind again and I was going to go find it, because I really loved the recording and wished that he released it to more than just his YouTube. I understand that song covers need some degree of clearance and permission so that may have got between him doing so, as this is a cover of a Chris Bell song from his only studio album. But I’m so glad that the song is finally here, as I remember seeing the original video and being in awe and finding the song so beautiful. Beck’s vocals are emotional and strong, his guitar playing twangy and snappy. It’s a beautiful and passionate rendition that I could listen to all day.
Uneventful Days — St. Vincent Remix: Earlier this year both of these artist joined forces to perform with Nirvana at their benefit show, and a few months later this remix was first unveiled. I adore both of these musicians and their music, I’ve seen St. Vincent live and will be seeing Beck next year, and my ultimate dream is for Beck, St. Vincent, Jack White and Dave Grohl to form a supergroup and release an album together. The world is not ready for that album but I need it. I was excited to see how St. Vincent reimagined ‘Uneventful Days’ as this is her remix of Beck’s song, and it was going to be released as a 7” single for Record Store Day before it was cancelled this year. It was released digitally as a single however, and now officially finds itself as a part of the ‘Hyperspace’ era.
As much as I love, adore and am inspired by these two musicians, this remix didn’t work for me the first time I heard it. That’s just my personal opinion. I love the instrumental and how St. Vincent has basically recorded the entire song from scratch and given it her own twist that’s full of guitar, synths and percussion. But the problem for me lied in the vocals. Beck’s vocals are absolutely fine but in comparison to the original, they’re a little too slowed down. They seem unnatural in the mix, and the fact they’re slower doesn’t fit with the fast paced instrumental. If he recorded a new take of his vocals for the song all over again then I think I would have liked it a lot more and it would have worked better. But the chorus of this remix it has a track of Beck’s vocals which are deeply buried in the original mix, so I was very happy that St. Vincent took those and pushed them to the forefront. And in all honesty, I liked the remix a lot more listening to it this time than the first. I still stand by what I said about the vocals sounding unnatural to me, but there’s no denying St. Vincent done a brilliant job in completely reloading this track. It sounds exactly like her, and with the presence of Beck it makes me want them to collaborate even more. Let’s hope that the future is full of more music from them both together.
Saw Lightning — Freestyle: Closing off the album is a song I never thought would get a digital audio release, but after some digging I found out that this was already released on the deluxe edition of the original album. The second track and first single of ‘Hyperspace’ was a song called ‘Saw Lightning’, and it may have stood out like a sore thumb in context of how the rest of the album sounded, but it’s no denying the song is such a feel good anthem and so much fun which is probably due to Pharell’s presence on the song. But on his YouTube Beck released a very stripped down version of ‘Saw Lightning’ that throws back to his ‘One Foot In The Grave’ song. It’s just him alone in an empty room singing, playing his harmonica and tapping his feet in place of the drums. It’s nowhere near as funky as the studio version, but to hear Beck by himself playing the song in the most stripped back form was so refreshing to see. I’m so glad that version has made its way to streaming services at last. I’m gunna be playing this lot more now there is an easier and convenient way to listen to it.
If I had to describe the new songs of this album in a single word, I would say “minimalistic”. It’s so refreshing to hear more stripped down versions of songs from an album that runs deep inside of me. I’m not saying these are better or worse than their original counterparts, that’s for you to decide, but it definitely adds more variety and gives you a choice of which way you want to hear these songs. I love that they let so many elements of the mix breathe, and it seems like Beck has been so inspired by Pharrell that he went away and challenged himself to make these songs even more minimalistic and bare than they already were. He did such a great and captivating job, while also managing to keep the original atmosphere of all the tracks.
I’m thankful for the bonus tracks too, even if they aren’t any full outtakes from the sessions. ‘Saw Lightning’ goes perfectly with the ‘I Am The Cosmos’ cover in the sense that Beck strips these songs down even more and still manages to convey such strong senses emotion and rhythm with only two or three instruments; I’m happy that the St. Vincent remix wasn’t just a throwaway track and has been added to the “canon” of the era, and I enjoyed it and clicked with it a lot more this time around; and finally, the ‘Soundscape’ track acts like a tease and just makes me wonder what it would be like for Beck to channel his inner Brian Eno and release a full electronic ambiance album. This release shows that when you think an album or a song is done, you can take it in so many different musical directions by adding to or taking away from the “final” product. You can reduce it to it bare bones or get one of your peers to put their unique spin on it; you can take it outside and sing it to the birds under a blue sky, or send it beyond our planet and literally out to space.
Be sure to follow my Instagram (@vickylikesmusic) for updates on new posts as I have a lot of new Beck and Prince album reviews planned to come out over the rest of the year. Be sure to check out my blog too for even more Beck and St. Vincent album reviews I’ve done, just click here to head on over! But if you’re going to do anything then I would strongly recommend you check out ‘Hyperspace 2020’ and the visual album. It’s quite literally out of this world.
Beck Teams With NASA for ‘Hyperspace’ Visual Album
Beck and NASA have teamed up on a visual album that transforms the singer’s Hyperspace into a journey through the cosmos.
Hyperspace: A.I. Experience pairs each track from Beck’s 2019 LP with space mission images curated by NASA’s artificial intelligence technology.
“The realization of these Hyperspaces was executed by A.I. architects and directors OSK, who asked ‘How would artificial intelligence imagine our universe?'” Beck and NASA said of the project. “In finding the answer, OSK created a unique A.I. utilizing computer vision, machine learning and Generative Adversarial neural Networks (GAN) to learn from NASA’s vast archives. After training on hundreds of thousands of images, videos and data points from NASA’s space exploration research and missions, the Hyperspace A.I. then began creating its own visions of our universe.”
Each Hyperspace track was then linked with images from a specific mission; for example, the album’s “Dark Places” features photos culled from the Hubble Space Telescope’s extensive archives for the visual album.
“I think each song is kind of a different way that different people ‘hyperspace’ — we escape from the reality that we’re dealing with,” Beck said of the pairing in a statement.
In addition to the visual album, Beck also announced a deluxe reissue of Hyperspace, due out December 4th. The limited-edition vinyl contains two extra tracks — a “Soundscape” version of “Dark Places” and Beck’s quarantine-recorded solo acoustic rendition of Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos” — as well as new 2020 mixes of the album’s “Star,” “Hyperspace,” “See Through” and “Die Waiting.” The reissue, available to preorder now, also features a holographic jacket and a 24-page booklet with AI images and NASA data for each track.
Hyperspace: A.I. Experience Tracklist
Hyperlife | Landsat 8, International Space Station
Uneventful Days | Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), Apollo 12
Saw Lightning | Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Curiosity Rover, Viking 1 Orbiter
Die Waiting | Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)
Chemical | Cassini-Huygens
Hyperspace | Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
Stratosphere | Spitzer Space Telescope
Dark Places | Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
Star | Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Swift, Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope
Everlasting Nothing | Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
2019 studio album by Beck
Hyperspace is the fourteenth studio album by American musician Beck. It was released through Capitol Records on November 22, 2019. It followed Beck's divorce from his wife Marissa Ribisi in February 2019. The album is a collaborative project with high-profile producer Pharrell Williams, who is credited for production and features on several songs. Recording for the album started in late 2018.
Music journalists describe the album as synth-pop and vaporwave aesthetic inspired, though Beck draws from several genres. The album art reflects this style, featuring Beck in front of a Toyota Celica, with the album's title in blocky Japanese script. Thematically, Hyperspace explores heartbreak, sincerity, solitude and Beck's relation to them. Guest vocalists for the album include Chris Martin, Sky Ferreira, Pharrell Williams, Terrell Hines, Alex Lilly and Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Four singles were released prior to the release of the Hyperspace. Following its release Beck did a series of interviews, mainly focussed on the album itself, Pharrell's contribution to the record, and Beck's creative process. In August 2020 Beck released an accompanying visual album titled Hyperspace: A.I. Exploration in collaboration with NASA JPL, featuring artificial intelligence generated space imagery and two new songs.
Hyperspace received generally positive reviews from critics, though some commented that the album is occasionally superficial and lacked the complexity of Beck's previous projects.Hyperspace received two nominations in the 2020 Grammy's for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Beck won the latter.
Beck broke into the mainstream in the early 1990s with an experimental and indie sound on his single "Loser". The accompanying album Mellow Gold is still described as "a quintessential piece of alternate rock." His 1996 album Odelay established Beck in the industry, winning a Grammy and reaching 16 in the US billboard charts. Stylistically, Beck has been known for blending a wide range of genres. Critics say Hyperspace in collaboration with Pharrell Williams is no different, incorporating minimalist electronic and pop elements, taking his sound to a "gently psychedelic landscape."
After concluding the tour for Colors in September 2018, Beck "wanted to seize the moment" to collaborate with Pharrell Williams, something he had wanted to do since 2012. Only once they were in the studio did the idea of a full-length album occur, Beck revealing that their collaboration was initially "going to be a single or an EP, but I think we were both surprised when there was a body of work here".
In February 2019, during the recording on Hyperspace, Beck filed for divorce from Marissa Ribisi, his wife of 15 years, an experience he described as “heartbreaking.” Critics expected to see this reflected in the album, though many noted upon release that Hyperspace lacked the somber tone of Sea Change, another album Beck released after a breakup. This detachment of Beck's personal experiences from his music is intentional, Beck stating he believes detachment leads to better music. Pitchfork writer Sam Sodomsky agrees with this sentiment, writing “It's been a long time since he successfully integrated his personality and his music”.
Beck sought to produce a more stripped back sound on Hyperspace. He said he wanted the songs “to be simple, and let them breathe,” which is a departure from his historically fuller and maximalist songs. Beck accredits this simplification to Pharrell, who he has described as a “master minimalist.” In contrast to the upbeat and fast-paced songs on his previous album Colors, Beck says in Hyperspace “the songs are a bit slower and have a little bit more of a spell in them; more of a mood”.
Thematically, Hyperspace deals with heartbreak, finding relief in troubled times, uncertainty and doubt. Beck has said the album is “about finding peace in the moment.” Variety writer A.D. Amorosi described the song “Dark Places” as a “study of epic loneliness,” which is complemented by the “proggy bass lines.”Hyperspace rarely directly references Beck's recent divorce a handful, but the theme of disconnection and vast loneliness is consistent throughout. The stripped back sounds of Hyperspace enhance this, the songs “Chemical” and “Dark Places” being described as “lullabies delivered from a space shuttle with just one person on it.”
Recording and production
Recording sessions for Hyperspace began after Beck concluded his Colors tour in September 2018. The album credits Pharrell Williams, Cole M.G.N., Greg Kurstin, Paul Epworth, David Greenbaum and Beck himself as producers. Critics primarily focus on Pharrell's influence, who co-wrote or co-produced seven tracks in the album. Known for producing tracks like Happy, Blurred Lines and Get Lucky, Beck describes Pharrell's influence on the album as “embrac[ing] this kind of post-digital sound”.
Hyperspace is the first project that Beck and Pharrell have worked on, though each artist has expressed respect for the other throughout their careers. In early 2018 Pharrell approached Beck for help on a N.E.R.D. song, and from there they “reconnected” and started to work on Hyperspace.
Title and packaging
Beck released the title Hyperspace alongside the first single “Saw Lightning” in April 2019. The title is inspired by the 1980s video game Asteroids. The ‘hyperspace’ button in the game allows the player to teleport out of harm's way, saving their life. Beck has stated that “each song has kind of a different way that different people hyperspace, or deal with the world,” tying the title to the theme of the album.
In October 2019, a month before the album's release, Beck posted the album cover alongside the words “In hyperspace / electric life is in my brain.” The cover artwork features Beck standing in front of a Toyota Celica, with the katakana word ハイパースペース, translating to hyperspace. Beck, who is credited for the design concept, says he chose to have the Celica on the cover due to its humble status as “an everyday kind of car” that “lets us transcend the everyday.” The inclusion of the title in Japanese on the cover was Beck's first instinct and “just felt right.” Although not directly stated by Beck himself, critics pick up on the strong influence of the vaporwave aesthetic on the album's artwork. Features of vaporwave aesthetic include 1980's arcade games, vintage cars and Japanese consumer electronics all of which are prominent in the albums cover artwork. The accompanying artwork in the vinyl version of the album is similar, the inner spread showing the dashboard of the Celica with the title on the steering wheel, and the back cover showing Beck and the car from a different angle.
Hyperspace: A.I. Exploration
In August 2020 Beck released a visual component of Hyperspace in collaboration with NASA JPL called Hyperspace: A.I. Exploration. The collaboration pairs each song in the album with a set of visuals to create an "interstellar journey combining publicly available NASA mission images, curated with assistance from NASA JPL, visualizations, animations and data with revolutionary Artificial Intelligence tech." The videos are produced by OSK Studios, who specialize in creative applications of artificial intelligence.
Beck also announced a deluxe reissue of Hyperspace to accompany the collaboration. The limited edition vinyl includes two extra songs; a new version of “Dark Places” and an acoustic rendition of Chris Bell's “I Am the Cosmos.” The vinyl also features new mixes of four songs, and a 24-page booklet containing the A.I. generated imagery and NASA data.
Prior to the release of the album, Beck and Capitol Records released 4 singles. “Saw Lightning”, released April 15 was co-written by Beck and Pharrell Williams and also included vocals, drums and keyboard from Pharrell. Additionally the title Hyperspace was also revealed, a press release stating that the upcoming album would come out “at an as yet undetermined point in the space time continuum.” The second single “Uneventful Days” was released October 17 alongside a music video directed by Dev Hynes. The single was well received, peaking at #1 on Billboard's US Adult Alternative Songs. On November 7 “Dark Places” was released with a lyric video made by Eddie Obrand. “Everlasting Nothing”, another song featuring Pharrell's writing and instrumentals, was released 14 November, a week before Hyperspace’s release.
Beck teased and announced the release of Hyperspace on social media in early October 2019. The album's release was accompanied by interviews with several publications. This included NME, a piece by The New Yorker and NPR. These interviews primarily focussed on the collaboration on Hyperspace with Pharrell, and Beck's creative process.
Following the release of the album, Beck headlined the Intersect festival in December 2019 along with Kacey Musgrave, Anderson .Paak and Foo Fighters. In February 2020 Beck announced a set of UK and European tour dates, taking place in June and July. In May 2020 these tour dates were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The performances were rescheduled for June and July 2021, however in May 2021 a statement was released on Beck's Twitter account that the shows had been cancelled “due to continued coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings, and in the interest of public safety.” Beck was also meant to perform at several festivals in 2020, including Pharrell Williams’ Something in the Water festival and Netherlands festival Down the Rabbit Hole. However, all the festivals were cancelled or postponed due to safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hyperspace received mostly positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has an average score of 77 based on 19 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? Gave it a 6.8 out of 10, based on their assessment of critic's reviews.
Musically, Variety writer A.D. Amorosi described the album as “joyfully introspective, minimalistic but sophisticated, contagiously melodic, straight-ahead, analog synth-pop record with a fleeting few of old school Beck’s signature touches.” Sam Sodomsky, writing for Pitchfork, writes “nowadays, it’s less rewarding to dig for the substance beneath his aesthetics,” suggesting that Hyperspace is less thematically driven than Beck's previous records. Matthew Perpetua of NPR compares the album to Beck's previous, writing “many of the songs are not far off from the glossy bops of Beck's previous album, Colors.”Rolling Stone's editor David Fricke echoes the idea Hyperspace is similar to Beck's past work, writing “Beck combines the exuberant studio mischief of 1996’s Midnite Vultures with the sumptuous introspection of 2002’s Sea Change to eccentric, genuinely compelling effect.” Other critics saw Hyperspace as a departure from Beck's previous albums, Pitchfork's Sam Sadomsky insisting that “the smooth, twilight sound of Hyperspace pushes him toward new territory.”
On the collaborative nature of the album, critics mostly welcome Pharrell's input. Elizabeth Aubury, writing for NME noting that “the album is at its best where Beck and Pharell meet in the middle: when their worlds do manage to cosmically align, the songs are at their most memorable and interesting.” Pitchfork writer Sam Sodomsky agrees that Pharrell and Beck have good chemistry on the album.
All credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
|12.||"Saw Lightning" (Freestyle)||2:19|
|4.||"Die Waiting" (with Sky Ferreira) (new 2020 mix)||4:04|
|6.||"See Through" (new 2020 mix)||3:38|
|7.||"Hyperspace" (with Terrell Hines) (new 2020 mix)||2:45|
|10.||"Star" (new 2020 mix)||2:50|
|13.||"I Am the Cosmos (42420)"||1:33|
|14.||"Uneventful Days" (St. Vincent remix)||2:59|
|15.||"Saw Lightning" (Freestyle)||2:19|
Adapted from the album's liner notes.
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Beck has now spent 15 years struggling with the very challenge he presented in the first half of his career: Who does he want to be? After a string of minor statements, Hyperspace doesn’t reignite his spark but it sheds a little light. Produced mostly with Pharrell, his 14th album is a breezy song cycle that rarely rises above a warped, shimmering sigh. Following 2014’s densely orchestrated Morning Phase and 2017’s labored pop turn Colors, it immediately feels like a relief. Like his best records, you can imagine the mood board hanging in the studio—synth-pop, vaporwave, trap beats, the future as imagined in ’80s movies—as he bends his influences into new shapes. At first, the plan was to collaborate with Pharrell on just one song, but after a few sessions, they felt there was more ground to cover within this gently psychedelic landscape. It was a good instinct.
The album sounds best when they stick to the plan. The cloying, stomp-clap single “Saw Lightning” is an outlier; it’s also the type of song that might have kept Beck up at night after “Loser” threatened to turn him into a one-hit wonder a quarter-century ago. Maybe he imagined himself at 49 searching for a hit while rapping over distorted slide guitar and so he decided to pivot his career in every other conceivable direction, as quickly as possible. “I would have thrived in a time like this,” he recently told NME. “I was creating so much music and my limitation was that I didn’t have the equipment to record myself. If I had a laptop and SoundCloud I would have loved it.” His sentiment rings true—particularly in a year when the biggest breakout hit was a grungy, tossed-off hip-hop-country hybrid—but his use of the past tense speaks louder. Why isn’t Beck thriving in a time like this?
He’s found himself in a strange position. Kind of like the Flaming Lips, he has been grandfathered into the role of an eccentric major-label lifer, and, like the Flaming Lips, he occasionally wanders into the interesting-in-theory vanity project netherworld. But Beck still adheres to old-school tenets of the industry: big singles, high-profile collaborations, brand partnerships. Hyperspace was previewed with a blandly conventional Amazon Exclusive set of Prince covers, an especially damning moment as it coincided with the 20-year anniversary of Midnite Vultures, Beck’s spiritual tribute to Prince. It’s been a long time since he successfully integrated his personality and his music. On a trajectory more like a blockbuster film franchise, his biggest release of the decade was essentially a reboot of 2002’s Sea Change.
Despite its missteps, the smooth, twilight sound of Hyperspace pushes him toward new territory. During the second half of the record, the sky seems to darken and the songs bind together into a mini-suite with overlapping themes and melodies. It culminates with a gospel choir bursting out of “Everlasting Nothing,” but the whole record works toward a more muted kind of celebration. Along the way, there are guest verses from Pharrell and L.A. songwriter Terrell Hines, undetectable vocals from Sky Ferreira and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and yet the mood remains intimate, solitary even. Its best songs—“Chemical,” “Dark Places”—are like lullabies delivered from a space shuttle with just one person on it. You can feel the distance.
The results are consistently pleasant to listen to, though there’s a subtle dissonance between medium and message. Thematically these ballads draw a line to Sea Change, Beck’s initial foray into heartbreak and sincerity. Many of the songs on Hyperspace continue a weary road narrative, their lush settings just a blur outside a moving window. A few moments allude to his recent divorce from actress Marissa Ribisi and another makes a direct, slightly jarring reference to using heroin. But all of them search for escape in their vague, downer narratives. He rarely focuses on any thought for too long, and the transience works in his favor. If he’s going to drift, at least he’ll enjoy the view.
“I feel so ugly when you see through me,” he sings midway through the album. At one point in his career, it might have sounded like a confession, back when his constant reinventions felt like a defense against being pigeonholed. On those early records, he’d bury apocalyptic visions in music that was playful and referential, rarely drawing attention to how much thought was being poured into every decision. Nowadays, it’s less rewarding to dig for the substance beneath his aesthetics. There’s less to see through. “There was a point where I was, like, ‘Is this over?’” he recently admitted to the New Yorker. “But I wake up with songs going. Melodies, harmonies, a bass line. It’s like there’s a radio station playing in my head all the time.” Listening to Hyperspace provides a similar experience—sometimes he hits pure signal, and sometimes it’s just background noise as he gets to wherever he’s going next.
Buy: Rough Trade
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2020 beck hyperspace
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