Album Review: Dave Beck – Stranger Homes

Dave Beck
Stranger Homes

Dave Beck grew up in Iowa and when he lived in IC he worked at Mickey’s, so I won’t hold his current residence in Brooklyn against him. He’s in good company; Brooklyn’s lousy with Iowa expats. And to the extent there’s a serious acoustic singer-songwriter scene in NYC, Beck is just the latest in a long line of Iowa expats showing them how to keep it real…acoustic.

On Stranger Homes Beck’s voice–a bit reedy, in the manner of Robyn Hitchcock–is employed in the service of songs whose immediate hummability belies their structural sophistication. He’s not an innovator, but he is a storyteller whose lyrics are conversational and well-fitted rhythmically and melodically.

The song “Stranger Homes,” with just Beck’s voice and acoustic piano covers his favorite topic–love lost. “I could bear the season until the next one arrives & I could change for you if you would do the same but where you come from, the seasons don’t change.” Coming after a series of self-consciously stilted lines, the simplicity and specificity are devastating. “Undecided Title” is more typical, centered around strummed acoustic guitars. “The 5 or the 6 train, the left or the right brain, where are my connections? And how much longer must I wait?” The quiet verse/loud chorus dynamics might ape (ugh!) Third Eye Blind, but the antic philosophizing of the lyric pushes the song into a more complicated and satisfying mood.

Dave Beck is more concerned with the next turn of phrase or change of chord than he is with being the next Dave Matthews or (eek!) Beck. Commercial pop music is mostly an advertisement for the musician; the soundtrack to a salable image or attitude. Dave Beck’s music is heartfelt without wallowing, or rather, when he wallows, it’s artful, not a cheap play for easy sentimentality. Stranger Homes is user-friendly in the manner of mainstream pop, but Beck aims higher than the next iPod commercial, for something stranger and more interesting.