Joel Morales - Cyanide Breath Mint
Dios vocalist Joel Morales has just released the first single "Cyanide Breath Mint" from his forthcoming tribute to Beck Hansen's early work entitled When Beck Was Cool.
In 1994, Morales had heard the buzz about Beck Hansen and his left-field hit "Loser" but he had an epiphany after hearing Beck's "Pay No Mind" on KXLU. "I thought, This is really good… and strange," recalls Morales. "I hadn't heard acoustic guitar, with a band, in a modern context, on the radio in such a long time." "Pay No Mind" struck him as the complete antithesis to grunge and corporate alt-rock, a folksy little ditty with oddball lyrics and a delivery that suggested its author might've inhaled a heady cloud of paint fumes before hitting "record."
“I remember hearing ‘Cyanide Breath Mint’ on KXLU — here was a guy with an acoustic guitar, sounding like the pitch was slowed down on the vocals, doing really interesting songs. The rest of that summer was my Beck summer. All I listened to driving around in the car was ‘One Foot in the Grave,’” Morales said.
Morales sought out all three of Beck's official 1994 albums—Mellow Gold, One Foot in the Grave, and Stereopathetic Soulmanure—as well as his early cassette releases and non-LP singles. He listened to them fervently, internalizing them. Up to that point, the Beatles had been Joel's biggest musical influence but the Fab Four now had serious competition. "Beck was a huge building block for me as far as song writing. I loved how laidback and anything-goes that music is." Morales' emerging musical voice was already unconventional yet catchy, but Beck inspired him to get "weirder and weirder" while retaining a pop sensibility.
It wasn't just the music that inspired Morales, either. "There was his whole history, this mythology that was really cool. He'd traveled here and there, making music wherever he could." In the midst of a frantic bidding war, Beck fought hard to retain creative freedom. And he didn't sit around waiting for clubs to offer proper bookings; he'd just appear at a show and play between other bands. "All that was very punk rock to me. I really dug that attitude."
Fast forward ahead 15 years. Joel Morales has cemented his own humble reputation fronting the trippy Hawthorne, CA rock combo Dios, whose 2004 self-titled debut earned raves from Pitchfork for making California rock seem "a little less predictable." Morales was crashing in a house in San Pedro, and gearing up to begin writing the fourth Dios full-length. When a roommate moved out, Joel transformed an upstairs bedroom into a home studio. To get his creative juices flowing, he would warm up playing the early Beck songs he'd learned, loved, and performed in public for years, and fiddle around with his recording equipment as he went.
"Before I knew it, I had four or five Beck songs I'd done in a week. And I thought, Man, I should just do a dozen of these, and put them out somehow." His brother Kevin dropped by and played drums on some tracks, and individual members of Dios popped in and out. Working at home allowed the recordings to remain loose and informal. Over the course of autumn and winter 2009, Morales continued to let his take on Beck's early catalog unfurl. When the time rolled around to leave the house in San Pedro, and relinquish his home studio, he'd recorded more than enough material for a full-length.
The resulting solo album, When Beck Was Cool, is a remarkable marriage of a gifted interpreter with inspiring material. You don't need to know the original versions to appreciate Morales interpretations, which range from flirtatious forays into country-rock ("Got No Mind") to a mélange of string and woodwind timbres, pianos and whistling ("Girl Dreams") that evokes his beloved Beatles as much as Beck. Indeed, many listeners may be discovering these songs for the first time. Aside from the epic "Blackhole," which closes out the disc—just as it did Mellow Gold—the originals aren't found on Beck's major label albums. The demented, socio-political "MTV Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack" comes from an über-rare 1993 split-single. The hazy, multi-layered "Cyanide Breathmint" was plucked from K Records' One Foot in the Grave, while the quasi-instrumental "Ozzy," which Morales imparts with a malevolent, Southern Rock crunch, began life on Stereopathetic Soulmanure. And unless you own copies of early tape-only oddities like Don't Get Bent Out of Shape and Beck, Like the Beer, don't even pretend you've heard "Fume" before.
While Morales isn't as passionate about Mr. Hansen's later oeuvre, he stresses that this album comes from a place of sincere admiration. "Ultimately this is an homage. I'm not making fun of the music, because this is some of the best stuff I've ever heard." In the mid-'90s, Beck was the epitome of musical cool to Morales, and that's the primary thrust of the title. "I know it's a little snarky," he admits, "but I have a feeling Beck would laugh it off and think it's funny. He certainly would've appreciated it back in the day. And if you understand him or his music, you'll get that."
Joel Morales (aka Joel Jerome)
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Joel Morales - Cyanide Breath Mint