I’ll always fear Odelay for the same reason that I love it. Beck’s 1996 Grammy-nominated (I’ll let you decide what that even signifies) album and capital-p Pop coming-out party remains, however diluted by my age, an adolescent nonpareil. I’ve memorized its melodies and its gimmicks. Best of all, I’ve memorized its silences — the pauses between tracks, the tiny, pre-chorus gaps in “High 5 (Rock the Catskills),” and the fading, vinyl crackle that opens “Where It’s At.” Odelay has achieved, through dedication, a burly fusion with my consciousness.

Yet the one silence I can never quite forecast — the moment that keeps Odelay’s guillotine-grip on my head — comes with the last track. After four minutes of “Ramshackle” (which would have been an apt title for the album) and its doomy, casual beauty, the track remains silent. After about two minutes, what sounds like a cyborg dry-heaving eviscerates the afterglow, looping for a minute before ending the album.

I vividly recall the first time I heard it. I had put on Odelay as a late-night, bedside accompaniment in high school. I had fallen asleep within the first few tracks. And in the middle of some dream — which quickly became a nightmare — the sound forced me awake, staring into darkness, terrified at nothing.

Ah, those hidden tracks. It’s a terrific trick.

One of the most prominent early (though not the first) instances of this trick is credited to The Beatles — with a sinister bit of looped babble concluding the first UK pressings of Sgt. Pepper’s, in what is called a “locked groove”. In a locked groove, the vinyl is cut in a closed spiral so that the needle constantly resets. Your record can play until the end of time, your needle erodes or the power goes out.

Countless artists, from ABBA to Weird Al, have done more than simply put looped noises at the end of their works. Full songs found their way onto the tail ends of albums’ and singles’ pregnant pauses. Different pressings and remasters have produced endless variables, with different tracks, slight differences in speed and running times, occasionally (or outrageously) stripping the albums of them entirely. It’s become the lovely minutiae of obsessive record collectors in some tragically dazzling ballet of distribution, obsolescence and capitalism.

I’ve come to love hidden tracks because they horrify me. I picked up an old CD pressing (Discogs.com lists 71 total versions) of Nirvana’s Nevermind last summer and was delighted to find the final song, “Something In the Way,” listed with a hidden track. I listened to the whole album on a mid-day drive from Detroit to Ann Arbor, waiting the entire 12, conclusive minutes to hear it. I was treated to the cryptically, wonderfully titled “Endless, Nameless,” which, Cobain was furious to find, wasn’t actually included on Geffen’s initial pressings of the album.

The track itself, a shrieking sludge-bomb with Dave Grohl’s attempt at instilling order by whaling on every cymbal in reach, didn’t gratify me as much as the silence leading up to it. For 12 minutes, I gripped my steering wheel. For 12 minutes, I tried to predict it. For 12 minutes, I waited.

Silence can be uncomfortable for many people. And if you’re John Cage, it can be the basis of an entire philosophy. To me, hidden tracks and locked grooves are explorations of what silence can do for you.

Hidden tracks are a chance for me to willingly submit myself into the tension of my own expectations — in which any sound, every sound, becomes its own little cataclysm. Every moment can be the last. I have to ponder fate. And in locked grooves, I can appreciate silence and what it might mean to be free. I’ve come to realize the ideal of silence only exists in my head. Traffic, crickets, my own heartbeat — there’s only one way to escape that.

First Choices’ 1977 disco classic “Let No Man Put Asunder,” tortures you with its incantatory couplet as it ends — looping, breaking the beat and stuttering into bouts of rhythmic silence. The rhyme goes, “It’s not over between you and me / It’s not over, I don’t want to be free.” It’s one of a few 12-inch records I seriously wish ended in a locked groove.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.