Beck Hansen is the ultimate musical changeling. His career has taken him from early anti-folk beginnings to the lo-fi collage art of his major label debut Mellow Gold. He has perfected tongue-in-cheek white-boy funk on Midnite Vultures and sad sack country troubadourism on Sea Change. His mastery of genres and styles and ability to shift from reverent homage to irreverent parody on a dime is perhaps matched only by the sadly now-defunct Ween. But with his latest release, Song Reader, Beck leaps out of the ranks of pop chameleon and into that of the American Composer. In perhaps the greatest experiment in retro musical crowdsourcing, Beck released his last album as a book of sheet music—20 songs in all, with lyrics—and asked the fans themselves to arrange, play, sing, and record the songs.
Plenty of people have taken up the challenge. A collection of Song Reader interpretations—from simple acoustic guitar treatments to lush piano-and-strings arrangements—is available here (each with accompanying videos). Most recently, an ensemble called the Portland Cello Project has taken on Beck’s “album,” enlisting the talents of a handful of vocalists. In the video above, watch the cellists perform “Title of this Song” with Lizzy Ellison at Portland’s Aladdin Theater. You can hear the full recording of the Portland Cello Project’s Song Reader below, and listen to Beck explain the genesis of Song Reader on NPR’s “All Things Considered” here.
Josh Jones is a writer and scholar currently completing a dissertation on landscape, literature, and labor.