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100 Albums: "Odelay" by Beck

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Beck
Title: Odelay
Released: 1996
Genre: dadaist electro-country alternative-folk singer-songwriter rap


Beck was totally going to be a one-hit wonder, right? Loser was a great song, but it was also a complete novelty of song whose album, Mellow Gold, didn't spawn any more singles. The aesthetic was fresh, but it was also incredibly weird. It was the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle sound that would never and could never be replicated. And then Where It's At hit radio and not only did it sound completely different than Loser, but it was pretty incredible in its own right. Never one to repeat himself, Beck teamed with producers The Dust Brothers who were at that time best known for the dense, sample-heavy Beastie Boys album Paul's Boutique.

The resulting album is kind of amazing. It's both stranger than more accessible than Mellow GoldWhere It's At remains a staple of alt-rock radio, and it produced a number of other successful singles, including the mellow groove Jack-Ass, jazzy The New Pollution, and the noise-rock opener Devil's Haircut.

(Fun aside for fellow guitar-players out there. The main riff for Devil's Haircut is ridiculously simple to play--it's just the bottom three strings played open and in ascending order. E, E -> A -> D. So, when I was in college I met a guy who used this song to pick up women. He would tell them he could teach them how to play a song in thirty seconds, show them that riff, et voila! I tried this once and it failed so spectacularly that I never dared try it again, as the girl I was hitting on--it turned out--had all the musical ability of a sea slug, and not being able to play something "that easy" was a pretty big turn off. Lesson learned.)

Deep cuts from this album are perennial favorites of mine. Lord Only Knows is a great alt-country romp. Sissyneck and Readymade and both fun grooves. There's really not a bad song, unless you count that hidden "computer rock" track after Ramshackle. Because it was the 90s, so of course there's a hidden track.

Further Listening: Beck is nothing if not prolific. If not for my one-album-per-artist rule, Sea Change, Guero, The Information, and Mutations would all have shots at being on this list, but out of those Sea Change is the one that almost supplanted this. It's a deeply sad avant garde singer-songwriter album produced by Nigel Godrich--who spends a lot of his time producing deeply sad avant garde albums for Radiohead. Some of his weirder projects include most of the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World soundtrack, a collection of sheet music that he never actually recorded himself, and his "record club" project where he and a bunch of musicians would perform unrehearsed recordings of entire albums by Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground & Nico, and INXS.

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