Pink Nasty (real name Sara Beck) plays the part of jaded, cynical Midwestern outcast to perfection. She is brash, vulgar and clever, and she’s clearly outgrown the limitations of her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, but is hesitant to move on. Her 2004 debut, Mule School, and a subsequent tour as part of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s backing band helped anchor Beck in the minds of indie fans. (It was her rendition of “May It Always Be” from Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Summer in the Southeast that brought her to my attention.) Beck enlisted Paul Oldham to record and Will Oldham to provide some vocals for Mold the Gold. Those collaborators, as well as faux rapper brother Black Nasty (who produced and co-wrote the album) allow Beck to flesh out her ideas, play to her strengths and further develop her voice.
Beck writes the sort of overly clever, skewed country-tinged pop rock that is immediately accessible yet offbeat and scrupulous enough to maintain interest. Her vocals, bright and charismatic, are enough to draw you in on first listen and if needed, carry all of the weight of her songs. Lyrically, Beck is at once confused, jaded, angry, soft and optimistic. She defines the confusion of being young. “Danny” finds her attempting to make sense of a relationship doomed from the start. She uses a call and response with Oldham (playing the musician love interest), asking “Oh, boy, will you remember me” with a reply of “Oh, girl, we’ll just have to wait and see.” The infectious “Don’t Ever Change” finds Beck and Oldham acting as cutesy lovers spitting declaration after absurd declaration for each other. It’s an immediate and refreshing moment, both to hear Oldham in this jubilated context and also to observe Beck play off Oldham for an increasingly spirited emotional performance.
Witty tricks and guests aside, Mold the Gold‘s best moments occur when Beck embraces her vulnerable, insecure persona. Displaying humanity, even if it is slightly buried, allows Beck the potential to let her audience learn and grow with her. “BTK Blues” features the lines, “Outside it’s icy and if you fall/ we will laugh our heads off,” followed by “Do I look the same/ have I put on some weight?” Beck successfully blurs the lines between brash insensitivity and her own insecurity and sensitivity, offering a mirror into her confused state.
By blending meticulous and fully realized songwriting with guidance from likeminded collaborators and a glut of charm and charisma, Beck has taken an essential step in corralling her eccentricities and owning her distinct character. Mold the Gold runs from damaged to smart to tender to bitter, but all of these things allow the album to be a complete portrait of the musician discovering her voice.