On Tuesday, Feb. 18, singer-songwriter Beck Hansen, better known as Beck, released “Morning Phase,” his 12th full-length album.
Early reviews of the album note its reminiscence to his 2002 release “Sea Change,” and the connection is not unwarranted.
Both albums have the same toned-down feel. But to say that they are “the same” is to take “Morning Phase” (and “Sea Change” for that matter) at face value. While “Sea Change” was born from melancholy (Beck wrote it after a split from his fiance, who he had been with for nine years) “Morning Phase” seems to come from somewhere lighter. “Sea Change” are the sad songs of a broken man. “Morning Phase” is the product of the introspection and quiet contemplation and an understanding of the art of letting go.
“Morning Phase” consists of 13 tracks, each song bleeding fairly seamlessly into the next, giving the whole album a sense of connectedness. Each song is consistently downtempo – a bold move, since then you run the risk of boring listeners no matter how good the album may be. Somehow this does not pose a problem for Beck in “Morning Phase.” Despite the softer nature of the songs, and despite the more upbeat and experimental feel of earlier albums, such as “Odelay,” the album is anything but boring. It is transcendent and ethereal and altogether beautiful.
The perfect blending and balancing of instrumentals with vocals, so that neither one completely drowns out the other, nor does one come completely to the forefront, gives the album a sense of serenity. Nothing hits you square in the face, but you still want to stop and listen. The album opens with a 30-second instrumental piece, “Cycle,” which quietly sets the mood for the whole album, softly flowing into the second track “Morning.”
The second instrumental track “Phase” comes in the middle, and is in the same vein as “Cycle” with its soft, orchestral build. The tracks roll up and down, building to a point and then falling away and then building again. The effect is almost hypnotic, and the repetition of certain phrases or words in different tracks, such as “Wave” and “Blackbird Chain,” only add to the effect.
Though it is undeniable that throughout the years Beck has created a sound that is uniquely his own, the harmonies, sweet falsetto and simple instrumental backing in “Turn Away” are almost reminiscent of the work of Simon and Garfunkel.
Beck’s sound has always been unique, and “Morning Phase” certainly fits that bill, but he does something that is often difficult for an artist who has been relevant for so long (“Loser” hit the charts in 1994 when most of us were still babies); he doesn’t fall into old habits or patterns, nor does he give his listeners something that tends toward the mainstream.
Sure, “Morning Phase” might be a little more accessible to most than the more funk-infused and dance-y “Midnight Vultures,” but it still has Beck’s signature sound. He proves that his musical style can stand the test of time without being bogged down by whatever is the dominant musical trend.
Every artist’s sound develops and changes over time, but the typical pattern is that they peak around album three or four and then go on the slow decline. Beck’s sound certainly has matured, but it is still undeniably Beck.
“Morning Phase” may not appeal to all people, especially those who aren’t familiar with Beck’s music, but if one can truly appreciate beauty, then they will be undeniably effected by the loveliness of his latest work.