Beck: Morning Phase

MI0003694324ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Often pigeonholed as being prolific to a fault, Beck took an extended break from recording after the 2008 release of Modern Guilt. He kept himself busy, producing acclaimed albums for Charlotte Gainsbourg, Thurston Moore, and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, blowing off steam via his mischievous Record Club (an online series where he and his friends covered classic albums), and then easing back to original songwriting through the ambitious Song Reader project, a folio containing sheet music for 20 unrecorded songs.

He also suffered a spinal injury in 2008, a fact not publicized until he was ready to release Morning Phase, his first album in six years, early in 2014. As Morning Phase is a slow, shimmering album deliberately in the vein of classic singer/songwriter LPs, it’s easy to think of it as a pained, confessional sequel to Sea Change, the 2002 record written and recorded in the wake of a painful romantic breakup.

Beck didn’t shy away from these comparisons, calling it a “companion piece” to his acclaimed 2002 LP, and as “Morning” glimmers into view, sounding for all the world like “Golden Age,” it almost seems as if Beck covered himself as part of the Record Club. Morning Phase soon develops its own distinct gait, one that’s a little more relaxed than its cousin. Crucially, Beck has swapped sorrow for mere melancholy, a shift in attitude that makes this 2014 album sweeter than its predecessor, a distinction sometimes distinguished by moments where words, traditionally the sadness signifiers for sensitive troubadours, are washed away by cascading waves of candy-colored sound.

Underneath this warm, enveloping aural blanket lie some sturdily constructed compositions — the haunting “Heart Is a Drum,” bringing to mind memories of Nick Drake; the loping country-rock “Say Goodbye” and its sister “Country Down”; “Blue Moon,” where the skies part like the breaking dawn — but the abiding impression left from this album is one of comfort, not despair, which makes Morning Phase distinctly different than its companion Sea Change.

Track list (favorites in bold)

  1. Cycle
  2. Morning
  3. Heart Is a Drum
  4. Say Goodbye
  5. Blue Moon
  6. Unforgiven
  7. Wave
  8. Don’t Let It Go
  9. Blackbird Chain
  10. Phase
  11. Turn Away
  12. Country Down
  13. Waking Light

Album Moods
Atmospheric Freewheeling Trippy Lush Sprawling Ambitious Autumnal Bittersweet Cerebral Complex Druggy Earnest Laid-Back/Mellow Reflective Sad Searching Brooding Elaborate Intimate Melancholy Poignant Somber Sophisticated Spacey Sparkling Wistful Yearning

[ review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine ]

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