Release Date: Nov 22, 2019
Record label: Capitol
Judging by looks alone may well be a fool's game, but the image adorning the sleeve of 'Hyperspace' does in fact give much away about Beck's 14th. Featuring the musician in a bright white suit, stood in front of an '80s red car, hand outstretched to shade his face from the light, it's a perfect visual metaphor. The record sees him teaming up with a handful of pals - producers Pharrell Williams, Paul Epworth and Greg Kurstin, Sky Ferreira, Terrell Hines - for a pristine collection that's at once the past's idea of the future as it is the here and now.
Hyperspace can be defined as a rarefied, alternative universe that can only be entered “using an energy field or other device”, according to Wikipedia. It is also an accurate description of the music as experienced when listening to Beck's 14th studio album. Two things hang over this release. The first is the break-up of Beck's 15-year marriage, though he has been at pains to distance the event from the resultant songs.
He's among that rare breed of artist that can take on any sound and put their unique stamp on it. There's been the lo-fi dirty slacker-rock of Mellow Gold; the madcap sample-heavy art pop of Odelay; the richly textured, melancholic folk of the Grammy-winning Morning Phase; and most recently, the kaleidoscopic dance-pop of Colors, another Grammy winner. Over his 25-year career the man's flicked through genres effortlessly, and it makes guessing his next step virtually impossible.
Hyperspace is one of those Beck projects that came together quickly. At the conclusion of the supporting tour for 2017's Colors, Beck headed into the studio with Pharrell Williams with the intention of contributing to a new N.E.R.D album, but they wound up hitting it off. The collaboration ballooned from a single into an EP and, ultimately, the core of Beck's 14th album.
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.
Beck Hansen is one of popular music's great documentarians. The talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and production wizard pulls from his vast toolbox at will, reflecting the music landscape surrounding him with Tarantino-like precision and intrigue. While Beck typically ping-pongs between unique variations of pop, folk, and rock with each project, Hyperspace is a close sibling to its predecessor, 2017's Colors.
Colors, Beck's last album, won two Grammies. Its sequel finds Beck retaining the marketplace nous of producer Greg Kurstin on one track and adding that of Pharrell Williams, purveyor of cheek-popping flair on more than half the album. Beck's records can often veer away from the sound of their predecessors, but Hyperspace is no minimal DIY folk jam: it's dewy, plush and on-trend.
The 14th album from Beck, and first since 2017's double-Grammy-winning 'Colors', shows the LA-born artist on top experimental form. Its title 'Hyperspace' captures the album's otherworldly soundscapes: all heavy synths, eclectic beats and emotive vocals. But beneath the sense of carousing carefree through a starry sky is a darker tone, as Beck lyrically grapples with the pain, grief and disorientation of the breakup of his 15-year marriage.
The Lowdown: Alternative rock icon Beck has always been a shape-shifter of sorts. He experimented with celebratory funk on Midnite Vultures, melancholy folk on Sea Change, and radio-ready trap on Colors. Now, with his 14th studio LP, Hyperspace, he's blended many of his previous explorations with a pop-forward foundation to mostly favorable results.
A few years ago, I asked Peter Buck what he missed about being in REM. "Being young and in the centre of my culture," he replied. It's a remark that came to mind when listening to the 14th studio album by Beck, seven of whose 11 tracks were co-produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams. This would have sounded like the most exciting collision of talents some time early in the last decade, the very definition of cultural centrality, but now makes one think: well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn't it? The irony is that Stratosphere, the best song on Hyperspace, has nothing to do with Williams.