'Modern Guilt' by Beck a lovely, weird psych-folk record

Patrick Varine

Both Beck and DJ Danger Mouse can be acquired tastes. The former’s experimentation fusing multiple genres of music together can come off as novelty to some; the latter’s out-there work with Cee-Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley can do the same.

But they’re also both capable of working magic, as evidenced by Beck’s previous effort, "The Information" as well as Danger Mouse’s genius pairing of Jay-Z and the Beatles on "The Grey Album" and his expert sonic backdrops as one half of DangerDoom on "The Mouse and the Mask."

Additionally, there’s little doubt that both could be the co-editors at Obscure Music Quarterly (props to sports reporter Jeff Mitchell for that one), so it should come as little surprise that when they got together to compare notes on their favorite old-school psychedelic rock, the result would be a lovely and weird psych-folk record that doesn’t sound immediately like either artist.

On first listen, "Modern Guilt" seems like what would have happened if Beck and company had recorded "The Information" with a lot more acoustic instruments and reverb. The tight, thickly-layered harmonies of Information’s “Strange Apparition” feature prominently, and the melancholy-future-paranoid vibe is still firmly in place.

And like much of Beck’s other work, the old coexists anachronistically alongside the new: the skittery drum-and-bass percussion with the otherwise lilting “Replica”; square-wave synthesizer fills with the chugging title track. But several songs are straight-ahead band numbers, with minimal tinkering on Danger Mouse’s part: the haunting, conspiracy-theory “Chemtrails,” the stomping “Soul of a Man,” and the surf-music-on-a-bad-acid-trip “Gamma Ray.”

And while "Modern Guilt" is easily Beck’s most mature-sounding record – one could make an argument for "Sea Change," however – it’s still a bit tricky making sense of his lyrics (“Trying to hold/Hold out for now/With these ice caps melting down/With the transistor sound and my Chevrolet terraplane /Going round, round, round/Come a little gamma ray /Standing in a hurricane /Your brains are bored /Like a refugee /From the houses burning /And the heat wave's calling your name,” from “Gamma Ray”).

It’s best to just enjoy the imagery, and the subtle touches of ’60s psychedelia sprinkled throughout the record work well with Beck’s stream-of-consciousness wordplay, as well as give it a rootsier sound that could just as easily appeal to boomers as to their children.

Danger Mouse seems to bring out an excellent side in whoever he’s working with, whether it’s Cee-Lo, the Black Keys or MF Doom. While it may not be Beck’s best album, "Modern Guilt" is a very enjoyable step in yet another slightly new direction.

Modern Guilt will be released today. Click here to listen to previews on

Sussex Countian