In pop music, when hard-pressed to do something new, do something really old. This maxim plays out in the latest batch of songs from Beck, an album the "Loser" star did not record, but one you now can hear -- if you play it yourself.
Beck Hansen's Song Reader is a fancy folio containing 20 pieces of sheet music, plus nearly a hundred pages of art (from Marcel Dzama, Leanne Shapton, Jessica Hische and more), published in mid-December by McSweeney's.
In some introductory liner notes, writer Jody Rosen describes the project as "an experiment in ventriloquism." Beck wrote the words and music; now you have to give them voice and sound.
Many musicians, professionals and amateurs, are doing just that. The web site for the project already overflows with videos of wildly varying performances of the songs. Dig Amy Regan's sultry reading of "Do We? We Do," John Alexander's Jackson Browne-y take on "Ye Midnight Stars" or the lighter-than-air "Old Shanghai" by Contramano.
Typical of Beck, this "album" -- songs he's been tinkering with since 2004 -- is an eclectic bunch. Last Thursday night in midtown Chicago, a similarly eclectic bunch gathered to play the set in its entirety.