There is a striking difference between pre- and post-hiatus Beck. Back in 2008, the experimental and indie rock giant released possibly the last truly out-there album of his career with the Danger Mouse-produced “Modern Guilt.” Six years later, the once-labeled “face of the slacker generation” dropped the Grammy-winning “Morning Phase,” a slightly lamer sequel to the depressive dreamscape of 2002s “Sea Change.” While that Grammy win was a long time coming, that six-year lull of creativity seems to have knocked something loose in Beck’s noggin.
Last year, Beck released “Colors,” a short, millennial-pop jaunt of an album whose over-accessibility resulted in many long-time fans pretty much disowning him as a purporter of captivating new music. It was sad to see the original “Loser” of the 90s result to pandering to the lowest-common denominator, but for an artist who had previously been to every genre and back, it’s only fair that he should miss a beat here and there.
Unfortunately, Beck seems to be equally as uninspired on his newest release, “Hyperspace,” which dropped Nov. 22. The lo-fi, slick cover art speaks volumes about what the album could have been. Obviously inspired by the recent trends of shoegaze, 80s nostalgia and Japanese culture, it seemed like Beck had set out to exhale a John Maus-esque breath of detuned drum machines and reverbed moans. After a listen to the album, however, it becomes more clear what this album actually is — a haphazardly organized collection of B-sides.
While it can be hard to believe, Beck reportedly had been working on “Colors” since 2013, so it’s very possible that one or more of the tracks from “Hyperspace” could have been conceived during the “Colors” sessions and put away for safekeeping. This could also easily explain the egregiously short time between the release of these albums, leaving “Hyperspace” as the “Amnesiac” to “Colors’” “Kid A.”
All conspiring aside, “Hyperspace” contains some of the dream-pop elements expected from the glossy cover art, but each instance in which they’re used is so spaced and misplaced that they lose their punch. The opening track, “Hyperlife,” begins the album on a promising note with haunting waves of synthesizer brushing the sand, but once they hit the shore of Beck’s meandering vocal melodies, they slowly lose their steam. While a pretty piece, it could be construed as a deceitful cash-grab, teasing the listener with dreams of vaporwave that, sadly, will never be actualized as the album progresses.
Tracks like “Uneventful Days” and “Star” use the bedroom-pop aspect to their advantage, utilizing plinky and present drum machine sequences and vocal tracks soaked in reverb to give the mix a shine. While these tracks are aesthetically pleasing, they meander around a bit too much for satisfaction and don’t stand out as anything substantial in the grander scheme of Beck’s career.
On the more frustrating side of the album, “Die Waiting” and “See Through” feature some of the most mundane vocal melodies of any Beck song, period. “Die Waiting” is an exercise in today’s pop tropes, with choruses that serve as the perfect sonic description of one thousand half-naked, stoned 20-somethings screaming in unison at some collectivism-centric music festival. The lyrics “I’m gonna wait on you” are repeated ad nauseam, leading to a beyond-skippable track.
Beck shields his eyes from the blinding spotlight on the cover of “Hyperspace,” and the music seems just as bewildered and caught off-guard as Beck himself. Never before has there been a Beck album this forgettable, and considering what the man is capable of, hopefully there will never be one again. He needs to go back to the drawing board and call this pop-star schtick quits.