You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Beck.

  • 1

    The Gist

    Beck Hansen had already released two albums of hipster folk, slacker hip-hop and performance art-style indie rock when he scored an unexpected Top 10 hit with 'Loser' in 1994. After 1996's genre-busting 'Odelay,' he pretty much was given the freedom to make any kind of record he wanted. So he has -- from Brazilian pop ('Mutations') to funky R&B ('Midnite Vultures') to sensitive singer-songwriter ('Sea Change') to straight-up alternative rock ('Modern Guilt'). You never know what you're getting with a Beck album, and that's a good thing. His latest release is a book of sheet music for new songs that encourages fans to make their own music.

    Scott Gries, Getty Images
  • 2

    Critical Consensus

    Following the surprise success of 1994's 'Mellow Gold,' Beck returned two years later with 'Odelay,' featuring his best set of songs packaged in his wildest beats, most supplied by the Dust Brothers, who created the Beastie Boys' 1989 masterpiece 'Paul's Boutique.' It's a mind-blowing trip and one of the '90s best records.

  • 3

    Contrarian Counterargument

    There were no expectations when Beck released his major-label debut (and third album overall) in 1994. Even though 'Loser' was a hit, the rest of the album is wild, weird and unchained -- just the way we like him.

  • 4

    Counter-counterargument

    Beck was recovering from a painful breakup when he made his 2002 singer-songwriter album 'Sea Change.' It's all reflective ballads and gently strummed acoustic guitars. It's Beck at his most personal, revealing and grown-up.

  • 5

    Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

    He's got no flow.

    Kevin Winter, Getty Images