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Modern Guilt (Interscope)

Wednesday, Jul 30 2008

Danger Mouse's presence as co-producer doesn't drastically alter what we've come to expect from Beck on the dude's eighth album: sleepy intonations, collage imagery, and junkyard instrumentation. Still, the ghostly vibe here is very much in line with both Gnarls Barkley records, and Beck veers into darker places lyrically. The breezy yet atilt "Walls" has an eerie refrain — "Hey, what are you gonna do when those bombs are fallin' down?" — and ends abruptly on the word "murder." "Youthless" opens with the mention of a bottomless pit. The effortlessly grabby title track, meanwhile, sums up the Modern Guilt experience with its scrubbed-clean prism of sputtering Danger Mouse beats, spacey keys, and vocal nonchalance. Chan Marshall lends ephemeral vocals to the twinkling opener "Orphans," and the single "Gamma Ray" weds chunky surf-tinged guitar to memorable wordplay: "She's got on a cactus crown/With a dot dot dot on her brow." If at first the album feels somewhat harmless and homogenized, a quiet diversity eventually reveals itself. There is a plethora of cool sounds here, and in the second half, "Replica" makes for a woozy, glitchy foil to the bluesy crunch of "Soul of a Man," the latter perhaps inspired by the Black Keys' Danger Mouse–helmed Attack and Release. Modern Guilt may not be spectacular or particularly daring, but it's reliably ear-tickling and excitingly brain-teasing.

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Doug Wallen


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