It’s a known statistic that every ten seconds someone from California sings a song about cars. And Beck Hansen is not immune. “These ice caps melting down / With the transistor sound / And my Chevrolet Terraplane / Going around around around,” he lilts in seashell echo over a peppy surf-pop beat on “Gamma Ray.”
In Beck’s 2008, those words actually relate to autos and their new pollutions; a decade ago, in his lighter, schizo-fusion days, they wouldn’t have. His imagery consisted of vivid blips that were as much Mad Libs mistakes as Beat manifestos, and the musicvibrated with slacker hip-hop, blues, electro, Brazilian lounge, etc.
But his tenth album, despite being produced by another ingenious genre-masher, Danger Mouse, is eerily soulful psychedelic rock, as focused as it is trippy, with the meditative nuance of 2002’s Sea Change.
Modern Guilt conveys the formerly campy enfant terrible’s sincere fear of having no place in present times. Lead single “Chemtrails” uneasily marvels at the beauty of jet-engine exhaust, creeping from slow burn to shoegaze as he sighs, “That’s where we’ll be when we die in the slipstream.” On the title track, Beck trolls the lonely Big City over anxious drum’n’bass beats.
In a scant 30-plus minutes, Modern Guilt modestly proves that it’s still restlessness, both artistic and personal, that drives the only living boy in Los Angeles.