A Dummy’s Guide to Beck’s Many Collaborations

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On the same day that Demolished Thoughts, the album he produced for Thurston Moore, hits stores comes news of yet another high-profile Beck collaboration: He’s producing Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ new record, Mirror Magic. To tide us over until that album’s release, August 23, we’re taking a look back at Beck’s rich history of working with other artists. From Calvin Johnson in 1994 to Moore in 2011, we present a fairly comprehensive guide to Beck’s collaborations.

Beck feat. Calvin Johnson — “Atmospheric Conditions” (1994)

Beck got his start on the indie label K Records, which was founded and is still run by Calvin Johnson, the all-around underground pop hero known for his instrumental role in the bands Beat Happening, The Go Team, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and countless more. So it’s only natural Johnson would collaborate on the closing track to Beck’s final album for K, One Foot in the Grave. “Atmospheric Conditions” is certainly lo-fi by Beck’s 2011 standards, but we think it’s catch, and Johnson’s signature bass hum really adds something.

Beck and the Dust Brothers — Odelay (1996)

Back in 1995, everyone assumed that Beck would be just another post-grunge one-hit wonder. But he enlisted big-shot producers the Dust Brothers to help him make his 1996 masterpiece, Odelay. Their expertise showcased Beck’s diversity, from the hip-hop flavor of “Where It’s At” to “Jackass’s” slow, jangly Americana to the nostalgic pop of “The New Pollution.” Now, of course, Beck is a widely respected producer in his own right.

Forest for the Trees (1997)

Beck was one of many members of Forest for the Trees, a sort of trip-hop collective led by a troubled figure named Carl Stephenson, contributing spoken-word vocals and playing a variety of instruments. The band’s only single, “Dream,” is an enjoyable, little dose of pop that even reminds us a bit of Len’s novelty hit “Steal My Sunshine” — which means, of course, that it sounds incredibly dated now.

Beck and Emmylou Harris — “Sin City” (1999)

When Emmylou Harris produced a tribute album to her one-time collaborator Gram Parsons, she enlisted The Pretenders and Sheryl Crow to duet with her — and Beck. Their take on “Sin City” is a reverent one, eschewing Beck’s experimentalism for twangy expansiveness. Listen to it here.

Air — 10,000 Hertz Legend (2001)

Beck is in his folksy, lethargic mode on stripped-down Air track “The Vagabond,” which features both his vocals and his estimable harmonica chops. But that isn’t his only contribution to the French electronic duo’s 10,000 Hertz Legend. He’s also responsible for the wispy, minimal vocals on “Don’t Be Light.”

Pink feat. William Orbit — “Feel Good Time” (2003)

Did you know that Beck co-wrote a song for Pink? He collaborated with William Orbit on the Billboard-charting “Feel Good Time,” which was originally recorded with Beck’s guitar and vocals. He surrendered the song (and removed his parts) when Pink asked to record it for the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack. Listening to the single now that we know about Beck’s involvement, we can absolutely imagine a rock version of it meshing well with hits like “E-Pro” on his 2005 album, Guero.

Beck feat. Jack White — “Go It Alone” (2005)

Speaking of Guero, that album — which was also produced by the Dust Brothers — features a ton of guests: Our favorite is Jack White’s slithery bass line on the sing-along slow burner “Go It Alone.” That’s Petra Haden, of the Decemberists, that dog, and the Rentals, doing backup vocals on “Rental Car,” and none other than Money Mark adds a bright, subtle dose of organ to “Earthquake Weather.” Also weird: that whispered “Please enjoy” on “Hell Yes” is credited to Christina Ricci.

Beck — Modern Guilt (2008)

Beck had two major collaborators for his most recent studio album: Danger Mouse, who served as Beck’s co-producer, and Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power), who contributed vocals to “Orphans” and “Walls.” We imagine Danger Mouse can be credited for the record’s multi-genre/mash-up feel. And while Marshall’s voice isn’t exactly showcased, it certainly adds depth and texture.

Beck’s Record Club (2009)

Two years ago, Beck made news with a fun idea called Record Club, which would bring him together with other musicians to cover full albums in a single day, releasing videos of each recording session one by one online. The first classic they tackled was The Velvet Underground & Nico, followed by Songs of Leonard Cohen. Since then, the picks have become a bit more idiosyncratic: Skip Spence’s Oar, INXS’s Kick, and even Yanni Live at the Acropolis. So far, participants have included Nigel Godrich, Devendra Banhart, Little Joy, members of MGMT, Feist, Wilco, Jamie Lidell, St. Vincent, Liars, Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes, Thurston Moore, Tortoise, any many, many more.

Charlotte Gainsbourg — IRM (2010)

Beck may not have put out an album of his own since 2008, but it’s not like he’s been slacking off. Early 2010 brought Charlotte Gainsbourg’s IRM, a gorgeous French pop-inspired album for which Beck wrote the music and some of the lyrics as well as taking on producer duties. As if that weren’t enough of a contribution, Beck and Gainsbourg duetted on the single “Heaven Can Wait.” Theirs is among our favorite of Beck’s musical partnerships, and we hope to see them work together again.

Tobacco feat. Beck — “Grape Aerosmith” and “Fresh Hex” (2010)

Perhaps sensing a kindred, eclectic spirit in Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Tobacco, Beck mailed in the vocals to two songs on his solo album, Maniac Meat. On the glitchy “Grape Aerosmith,” he’s calling us from far away. “Fresh Hex” finds Beck rapping, sometimes nearly incoherently, to the sounds of disco in an industrial blender.

Beck and Bat for Lashes — “Let’s Get Lost” (2010)

One of the few redeeming aspects of the Twilight franchise is the soundtracks albums, which tend to feature original cuts by some of our favorite musicians. “Let’s Get Lost” is a rare, sensual moment for Beck, his breathy, sexed-up vocals entwining with Natasha Khan’s otherworldly purrs. Even (perhaps especially) if you didn’t see Eclipse, this is one for your make-out mixtape.

Sex Bob-Omb (2010)

Of course, Twilight wasn’t the only movie soundtrack Beck contributed to last summer. He also wrote a handful of songs for Scott Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb, in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — catchy, simple garage-rock numbers that were perfect for a teenage Battle of the Bands winner. Somewhere, a teenage girl still can’t get over the idea of Michael Cera singing tunes Beck wrote.

Thurston Moore — Demolished Thoughts (2011)

An acoustic album from noise god Thurston Moore? Believe it! While not all the songs on Demolished Thoughts are as gentle as “Benediction,” they are a major change of pace for the Sonic Youth frontman. In fact, their contemplative nature suggests producer Beck’s own quieter moments, on albums such as Mutations and Sea Change. And the risk has paid off. Out this week, Demolished Thoughts is already earning well-deserved raves.