Beck, who released Threads earlier this month under the moniker String Machine, chalks it up to spending more time in the city after a childhood spent in Saxonburg, a quiet town 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh. The sirens, street noise and constant presence of other people in the city was disorienting to Beck. That parallel between his paranoia and external turmoil became the driving force for Threads.
The 12 songs on the album might fall under indie folk, but like the recent output of Sufjan Stevens (with whom Beck shares quite a bit), the songs are layered with unexpected instruments and production. Acoustic guitar runs through the album continuously, but it’s often paired with electronic components, voice-modulation, synths, trumpet and cello.
“Garden” is a good place to start if you’re turned off by “indie folk.” It opens with bumbling electronic percussion, leading into Beck’s creepy, dreamy pitch-shifted voice singing about the isolation and paranoia he felt living in the city. “When the fire escape became the only way you could get away / they burn down our harvest, they can’t keep us hostage.” Elsewhere on the album, his voice is strained and vulnerable, closer to somebody like Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. Part of the fun of Threads is the unpredictability of how the different instruments and styles interact from song to song.
Some of that unpredictability is due to the highly collaborative nature of the process. Threads features about 10 of Beck’s friends chipping in on instrumentation, production and album art. While many of the artists contributed remotely or no longer live in the area, you’ll get a chance to see all of the album’s collaborators at the album-release show on Dec. 30, in Butler.