Beck

Morning Phase

Capitol

Feb 25, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia Bookmark and Share


Attempt to connect the dots between Beck releases and you'll rarely find moments where the artist has circled back on himself. Unfettered by genre or by audience expectations, his drowsy baritone and free-associative lyrics are the only things which remain consistent from album to album. When he described his long-in-progress twelfth studio LP as a "companion of sorts" to 2002's Sea Change, we wondered how close it would come. Guero had been touted as a return to Odelay's off-the-cuff collage style, but missed that mark on several points; would Morning Phase be a spiritual successor to Beck's mournful, psychedelically-tinted classic, or an adrift homage?

Beck's first LP since 2008 is, without question, the closest thing he's ever done to a follow-up album. From the opening string swells and gently-strummed acoustic guitar of "Cycle," it's clear he's working from a similar set of inspirations as the fan-favorite Sea Change, from the softly-plucked chords and resounding harmonies to its kindred spaciousness. Many of his long-time backing musicians returned for these sessionswhich Beck produced himselfbut the strongest correlation between the records comes down to the lush orchestral arrangements by the singer's father, composer David Campbell. The most notable difference, however, is Morning Phase's tone. Sea Change was born out of a breakup and was fittingly morose; this record is much sunnier. Beck described it as "California music," in the tradition of The Byrds, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young; there's a trace of sunburnt, West Coast country throughout. It's optimistic, uplifting, and absolutely gorgeous. 

As much as it calls back to one of his older, revered works, it feels like a new beginning. This is the most refreshed Beck has sounded in a decade; it's his best album in that much time, easily, and sure to be instantly beloved by fans who hold Sea Change to be his crowning work. With hints of a second album possibly arriving later in 2014, it's apparent he's emerged from these recent years of rehabilitation and scattershot, offbeat experimentation feeling inspired. If Morning Phase is any indication, we have much to look forward to. (www.beck.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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