ALBUM REVIEW – “Morning Phase” by Beck

Since the early 90s Beck has remained one of the music world’s most respected and unexpectedly successful figures, his distinctly unconventional approach to crafting songs complimented by a willingness to branch into seemingly any sound he chooses. He’s flirted with mainstream success but never courted it, and refused to ever stand still long enough to be pigeonholed – though his more recent releases have often recalled a particular ‘phase’ of his past. In this case, he’s returned to the sincerity, atmosphere and organic feel of 2002’s Sea Change, though craftily avoids simply creating a sequel.

Atmosphere is the order of the day, and if you’re looking for a record to immerse yourself in, Morning Phase is just the ticket. Immaculate production ensures every minor detail is perfectly audible, all contributing to the mesmerizing experience. Traditional rock instrumental layers are laced with reverb-drenched choral backing vocals. The pace of the album never really goes beyond an amble, but there’s enough variation between the upbeat and the drifting to avoid monotony. Each one of the slow, hugely atmospheric pieces is gorgeous, opener ‘Morning’ and the magnificent ‘Unforgiven’ in particular impressing with their sheer scope.

His musical collaborators, largely the same as those who featured on Sea Change, help flesh out the expansive soundscapes, but it’s the voice of Beck himself that dominates proceedings, and with one as strong as his that’s no bad thing. What sets him apart, though, is just how tasteful his melodies are, his strident vocal range always employed discerningly and to the perfect level that the song requires. His performance on the sparsely arranged ‘Turn Away’ is spellbinding, a showcase of just how good multi-layered vocals can be.

The languid pace of ‘Morning Phase’ may put off some listeners, but to complain of lack of energy would be to miss the point entirely. More rhythmic tracks like ‘Heart Is a Drum’ and ‘Blackbird Chain’ prevent the album from being entirely one speed. Orchestral arrangements frequently elevate the songs to otherwise impossible heights, taking centre stage on the yearning ‘Wave’. The vast majority of songs, with a couple of exceptions, have runtimes that allow the exploration of sound to reach its full potential without getting boring. Short interlude ‘Phase’ feels somewhat redundant, but it’s unlikely to annoy and does flow nicely into the following track.

Gorgeously delicate for the bulk of its duration, if anything the more up-tempo numbers on ‘Morning Phase’ represent its low points, though it’s obvious why they have been included. Tonally repetitive it may be, but this is a record of such beauty and obvious sincerity that it’s hard to begrudge Beck his focus on crafting celestial soundscapes. As both a singer and a songwriter, he shines very brightly on an album that might not set your world on fire, but will provide tranquil listening with every play through.

Rating: 8/10

[Michael Bird]

‘Blue Moon’

‘Wave’

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