Beck has a knack for self-deprecation. This was the first thing we learned about him on his 1994 debut, Mellow Gold, when he informed us he was a loser and ought to be killed. Now, after several wildly creative, widely ranging and very un-loser-like LPs, Beck is returning to his Spanish-insult-hurled-at-me-in-high-school roots with Guero (“white boy”). The album finds him collaborating again with the Dust Brothers, and the advance EP Hell Yes brings us four of the album’s tracks remixed in video game mode by 8-bit and Paza.
If Guero in its LP form puts us in the high-tops of a teenaged Beck, pedaling his bike through mildly hostile neighborhoods, the EP recreates a similar but more interior world, the Atari dreams of a moony adolescent. The title track, “Hell Yes,” is in its standard version a slow-rolling asphalt journey, laced with disparate musical snippets. These overlapping clips compose a ride through hot Los Angeles streets, from the old guy with the harmonica to the sultry girl on the corner. “Ghettochip Malfunction,” 8-bit’s EP remix of “Hell Yes,” is the after dark version of the same story. Fueled by too many rounds of Pacman, the day’s voices have gone robotic, and its music has disintegrated into early-digital explosions.
Even “Girl,” the record’s crush song, has been run through a video game filter. Surprisingly, this rendition, remixed by Paza and renamed “Bit Rate Variations in B-Flat,” works terrifically well. On an album that brings back the slacker insouciance of Mellow Gold, Beck’s beatific voice here remembers the aching beauty of Mutations and Sea Change, floating over a medley of Koopa stomps and Warp Zone welcomes. You’ll think you just saved Princess.