Beck
Morning Phase


3.0
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
February 20th, 2014 | 78 replies


Release Date: 02/25/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: We're fast asleep it's morning.

If there’s anything to be gleaned from the widening arc of Beck Hansen’s two decades-plus career, it’s that there’s a certain comfort, a trust in putting on a Beck record. To wit: Morning Phase, his twelfth album and first since 2008’s strong Modern Guilt, is Beck’s most gorgeous record. The production wafts in like a soft rain, damp but not soaked, warm and lush. “Morning” is so meticulously crafted as to have been assembled in a lab, but it never sounds remotely mechanical – its nuances and timbres are the sound of nature as melody, a soft give-and-go that’s like a double shot of major-key elephant tranquilizer. Morning Phase is an exquisitely crafted release in a series of records that have increasingly perfected the art of a “Beck record,” whatever that means. His ability to maintain a sense of ostensible adventure while still assuring the listener that, wherever he goes, what will result will remain a quintessentially “Beck” record, is, at this point, totally refined. It’s never really mattered whether Beck was indulging in the atmospheric funk of Modern Guilt, the reliably odd grab-bag of styles that was Guero, or the bedroom sex jams of Midnite Vultures; what you ended up with was Beck as musical cipher, putting his considerable songwriting talents to use in showing another side of his oeuvre, different but still agreeably familiar. It’s a cycle Beck himself encourages – he has called Morning Phase a “companion piece” to 2002’s Sea Change, borne out of a similarly trying life event (a debilitating spinal injury here, a devastating breakup in 2002) and featuring the same slow, sparkling folk tropes and a confessional singer-songwriter bent.

To simply call Morning Phase a Sea Change redux and be done with it does Beck and the album a disservice, of course. Sea Change was a nakedly personal album that finally got to the heart of an artist who had been steadfastly opaque for nearly a decade. Where its detractors criticized Beck’s appropriation of traditional singer-songwriter clichés as just another instance of a performer trying on a new, different hat, its fans rightfully recognized an album that hit on a fundamentally emotional level the snickering Beck on Mellow Gold and the prankster of Odelay couldn’t touch. Morning Phase is a similarly reflective record, one that expands a bit on Sea Change’s sonic palette while staying true to that album’s introspective tone and lyrically blunt themes. “Wave” crawls forward through a shimmer of strings threatening to veer into dissonance while Beck intones “isolation” like a mantra, the weight of it inverting the wide-open spaces that the rest of Morning Phase gently sketches out. It’s a claustrophobic listen and the nearest relative to Sea Change’s unsettling dynamic, yet it’s also the only time Beck really approaches that latter record’s emotional desolation. Indeed, the melancholy that seems to emanate from Beck’s direction here is a mere patina coating stories of redemption (“Waking Light”) and romantic bliss (“Blackbird Chain”). It’s the comfortably warm blanket to Sea Change’s dangerously smoldering fire.

Yet Morning Phase lacks the one ingredient that made Sea Change such an essential part of Beck the artist – the insight into a person usually as opaque and chameleonic as his own discography. Beck is overwhelmingly at ease throughout Morning Phase – at his age and with his kind of success, it’s hard to see how he couldn’t be. Blips of uncertainty arise throughout: “Blue Moon” is a haunting contemplation of loneliness, its chords clanging against a backdrop of thudding drums and guitar wails that seem to stretch out forever, and “Turn Away”’s orchestral flourishes add to that song’s painfully serious warning. These moments elevate Morning Phase from a decent approximation of a “sad Beck record” to tunes that genuinely plumb depths that he rarely trawls, but they shrink in contrast to the rest of the album, where Beck is content to relax in nostalgia and a generally sunny perspective. The twangy backwoods memory of “Country Down” and the dumb beauty of repetition in “Heart Is A Drum” are more representative of Beck’s current headspace, and while pretty to look at, they are pools that only go so deep.

In hindsight, this shallowness shouldn’t come as a surprise. Beck has always been superb at weaving his own tale however he sees fit – Morning Phase is the perfect snapshot of an artist treading close to middle age and re-asserting himself with a sound that is as vibrant and generally indicative of its creator’s idiosyncratic songwriting abilities as could be hoped. That it fails to distinguish itself from his earlier, equally mild-mannered acoustic records, nor refuses to step out from the shadow of Sea Change’s emotional wreck, is difficult to hold against it, or him. It’s Beck trying on a new hat, the same one his critics accused him of appropriating a little over a decade ago under false pretenses. That we know what Beck is capable of under this guise, however, makes Morning Phase an increasingly inconsequential offering in his discography upon repeated listens. Here’s Beck doing happy folk that sounds sad, lyrics that entice but simply have no place interesting to take you but in another circle – having reached the pinnacle of your profession and basking in the satisfied glow of parenthood will occasionally have that effect. Perhaps it’s the appropriate album for Beck in 2014; frankly put, he sounds, at times, better than ever. For the listener, though, it’s a window shut, a portrait instead of a Beck who is much more interested in drawing a picture in two dimensions than enveloping you in it. At the end of things, Morning Phase remains exceedingly lovely but disappointedly insubstantial; not a sea change at all, but just another passing phase in a career that’s made a specialty of them.




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user ratings (181)
Chart.
3.4
great
other reviews of this album
Bradley Harris (2.5)
Beck delivers a disappointing album that offers no connection...

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Dan H. CONTRIBUTOR (3.5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
February 20th 2014


10577 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Easy 4 for me the first time I heard this but grew sort of disenchanted with it upon repeated listens as I tried to make clear in this review : ( still a very solid record tho. "Blue Moon" kills

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


1687 Comments


Killer review as always. I've never really gotten into his stuff, but I can appreciate his influence (whatever the extent to that is).

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


1687 Comments


One possible suggestion: I would change "there's a comfort, a trust in putting on a Beck record" in the first sentence to something like "there's a certain comfort (or trust, if you will) in putting on a Beck record." I feel like the way you have it puts an awkward pause in the sentence that could be a little smoother with "trust" used as an additive interjection in parentheses rather than after a comma.

Pheromone
February 20th 2014


3860 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

Nice review man. I did find that I enjoy this less and less with every listen.

Digging: Jeremy Enigk - Return of the Frog Queen

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


16125 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Awesome review, spot on.
Modern Guilt had some great moments but this is dull.

Curse.
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


8021 Comments


"One possible suggestion: I would change "there's a comfort, a trust in putting on a Beck record" in the first sentence to something like "there's a certain comfort (or trust, if you will) in putting on a Beck record." I feel like the way you have it puts an awkward pause in the sentence that could be a little smoother with "trust" used as an additive interjection in parentheses rather than after a comma. "


I like it the way it is in the review; it is a conversational way of writing. Gives the feel of someone actually saying it, which is nice

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
February 20th 2014


16089 Comments


Disappointed, modern guilt is arguably my favorite beck record and I was hoping this would be equally great

mryrtmrnfoxxxy
February 20th 2014


13452 Comments


good to see some modern guilt love

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


1687 Comments


"I like it the way it is in the review; it is a conversational way of writing. Gives the feel of someone actually saying it, which is nice"

yeah, it's not that big of a deal, and your point makes sense.


klap
Staff Reviewer
February 20th 2014


10577 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

thanks dark! i feel where you're coming from the suggestion, but the change i might make is a comma after trust

john this is still good so i'd def give it a listen if i were you.

robin
Emeritus
February 20th 2014


4261 Comments


listened to one song in the middle of the record i thought was awesome

was so psyched

then was bored after like 5 songs

hold me

robin
Emeritus
February 20th 2014


4261 Comments


ohh, country down

InfamousGrouse
February 20th 2014


3592 Comments


Bright Eyes summary?

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
February 20th 2014


7423 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm not entirely sure how much I like this yet, but the string arrangements are wonderful.

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
February 21st 2014


4458 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Excellent review, Rudy. I enjoyed this album personally. I like the way the album tries to sound optimistic, yet still echoes some of the sadness from Sea Change. "Morning", "heart is a drum", and "blue moon" are so good.

undertakerpt
February 21st 2014


1379 Comments


Only reason I listen to beck is cos roger manning is on it

Good idea - sucking a big fat sweet

Bad idea - sucking a big black cactus

asaf
February 22nd 2014


889 Comments


look at the sound cloud plug! that's a first notice for me! oh how far sputnik has come...

Green Baron
February 22nd 2014


20325 Comments


been here for a month now

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
February 22nd 2014


10382 Comments


Hernan, I just realized you kinda look like a Beck with brown hair

Digging: Thou - Heathen

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
February 23rd 2014


4458 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Really? I don't see it personally, but I take that as a compliment anyway. Beck is a beautiful man.



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