If you’ve spent a couple rain-soaked afternoons listening to Beck’s first plush collection of songs, Sea Change, then there should be no surprises with his newest offering, Morning Phase. The two effectively go hand-in-hand.
As the title suggests, it’s purely a morning album. Where Sea Change fits perfectly between, say, the hours of 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., Morning Phase is more nestled somewhere around 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. It drifts lightly like the steam rising from that first cup of coffee.
Essentially, they’re the same album with Morning Phase given a little more production weight, but not much. The songs are all acoustic-based with big pillowy drums and swirls of lilting instrumentation. Rarely is the mold disrupted.
The first actual song, “Morning,” moves sloth-slow. It feels like it will end in the aftermath of every snare clip. “Blackbird Chain” settles on a charming bass line and pop-melodic guitar, while “Unforgiven” bears down with a sturdy beat and hammered piano notes.
Mostly, Beck’s voice remains at a low murmur with a constant echoed tail. On “Wave” he sings from an island in a sea of lush and tepid strings. There is a haunting premonition in the lowly notes as Beck wails, “Isolation…”
The rollicking guitar on “Heart Is A Drum” devolves into smoky drums that waft from the mix. “Country Down” is a torch-pass from Neil Young’s Harvest. The bass notes of the acoustic hunker down and the sweet reflective air of the harmonica billows out.
In the six years since his last album, Modern Guilt, Beck has been busy. He’s released off-center electro singles at random, sheet music you can’t hear without your hands, recorded cover albums with his pals, let unreleased music collect dust–everything but release an official album of his own music, which can make Morning Phase a bit of a disappointment.
Beck unearthed himself in the early 90s as a slack-jawed loser parting the seas of punk and psychedelia. In the two decades since he’s corralled funk, soul and hip-hop break beats into his musical blender with a fat finger on puree. When Sea Change came out twelve years ago, it was a revelation, that grungy, weirdo Beck could be an actual song-writer and express sincere, unironic emotion.
With Morning Phase that notion hasn’t been strengthened any. It’s really an album to play early in the morning and forget about. It’s swift and subtle and breaks no ground. I imagine a lot of people will not find it too engaging. For those craving the funky white-boy Beck though, he apparently has another album simmering, ready for release this year, and apparently Pharrell is on it. So, if anything, Morning Phase should be the crackers to the bowl of soup. Like it or not 2014 just might be a Beck year. Hell yes.