Beck – Hyperspace
With his last album, 2017’s Colors, Beck reached for the mainstream – and won two Grammy awards. It had nothing on his previous record, Morning Phase, a melancholy folk-rock classic. But here his accessible-pop leanings continue.
At the heart of Hyperspace is his first collaboration with co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams, whose minimalist production is imprinted all over this album. Beck, meanwhile, has reined in his maximalist approach. “I really tried to be less ambitious on the production on these songs, like to let them be simple and let them breathe,” he told NME. “I’ve really tried to reform myself.”
It shows, but not necessarily for the best. The walking-pace tempo to many of the tracks, alongside blissfully lilting sonorities and clean instrumentation, create a relaxed vibe that washes over the album. You just wish that songs such as the single “Uneventful Days”, the chilled, trip-hop-flavoured “See Through”, co-written and co-produced by Colors collaborator Greg Kurstin, or the title track, were further developed. One of Hyperspace’s more upbeat tracks, “Saw Lightning”, benefits from a piano-led vocal-harmony bridge; on “Die Waiting”, meanwhile, arpeggiating synths and soft vocals swirl over simple drum-machine beats and melody – although the bland “woahs” and “heys” are a misfire.
More atmosphere comes later in the album. “Stratosphere” is a floaty sunset highlight, adding spacey reverb, gentle acoustic-guitar flourishes and a warping technique to the piano as Coldplay’s Chris Martin sings backing vocals. It’s followed by the equally dreamy “Dark Places”.
Hyperspace is also one of Beck’s most collaborative efforts to date, with guest vocals from Sky Ferreira, too, and a credit for producer Paul Epworth. But while these are enjoyable enough tracks to soundtrack your day, there’s little of the lasting emotion or progression for which we know Beck. Here’s hoping Beck un-reforms himself and lets it all out on the next release. Elisa Bray
Lady Antebellum – Ocean
Lady Antebellum are one of the most reliable groups in country music. For 13 years, the Grammy-winning Nashville trio have released a steady stream of songs about falling in and out of love. A hiatus announced in 2015 didn’t even last two years, when their seventh album, Heart Break, was released, and they were back peddling their often rather cloying blend of country pop. Now they’re releasing Ocean, having signed to a new label (Big Machine, formerly home to Taylor Swift).
Aside from that, little has changed. The harmonies between vocalists Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are as charming as ever; again, their lyrics are about love. Through the chirpy ukuleles and upbeat percussion of “Alright” and the swooning drama of “The Thing that Wrecks You”, the band sound as if they might have lost their lustre. But it’s hard to blame them: if I’d been singing the same song for 13 years, I’d be bored too. Roisin O’Connor