Beck’s new sheet-music album ‘Song Reader’ available for pre-order

Los Angeles singer and songwriter Beck has begun offering his new group of compositions, “Song Reader,” for pre-order, his publisher announced on Friday. The 20 new songs might be called an album, except that Beck himself won’t be performing them; rather, his new work will only be available via sheet music.

That’s right: As he announced last month, to hear “Song Reader,” you’ll either have to learn how to play the songs yourself or lower your standards and start hanging out with musicians.

Beck’s new work will be released by San Francisco publisher McSweeney’s in the format that drove the music industry before the arrival of recorded sound in the early 1900s. Before 78 rpm shellacs ruled the charts, hits were driven not by artists performing their music themselves -- though that was one avenue of monetization -- but through sales of songbooks and sheet music.

“Song Reader” comes out Dec. 7, a date that feels filled with potential. How to present the work on its release date? Will Beck commission musicians? Will he pre-release any copies so that on that Tuesday artists across the world will participate in the performance of the music? Will YouTube explode with personal renditions? Do any pop musicians even know how to read music anymore?


Hopefully those latter scenarios will come true, because the term “social” has increasingly become synonomous with “staring at a little screen and punching at letters,” and music consumption mostly involves plugging in a device’s earbuds and vanishing into the no-conversation zone. “Song Book” has the potential to remind us what “social” really means when it comes to music: getting together with kindred spirits and playing music while friends listen.

Equally exciting is the release’s artwork, especially considering McSweeney’s innovative design sense. Anyone who’s ever seen vintage sheet music understands the beauty of its design, which pops with color. For “Song Reader,” Beck has commissioned artists including Marcel Dzama, Leanne Shapton, Jessica Hische and others to design covers for the individual songs.

The curious can pre-order “Song Book” at the McSweeney’s website. The release costs $34, and a limited number of copies signed by Beck are available for $50.


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