Singer/songwriter and all-round musician Beck gained notice as a garage folkie who liked sampling and busting goofy moves in videos.
He’s also a retro pioneer, who understands nostalgia: the appeal of the not-too-distant past that’s close enough for comfort. He’s got style, and that sometimes obscures his evocative songwriting.
Beck’s creativity is guided by sounds and mood. He gives the sense of a mission to capture a vibe and to underline that with an exclamation mark.
Known for his mock-serious wardrobe (capes and rhinestones), Beck would use elaborate gestures to make an impact. But Morning Phase keeps extravagance at arm’s length. The raw weirdness of albums like Guero and songs like Devil’s Haircut don’t surface here.
As hinted at in some sources, Morning Phase is an update of the distant, dreamy reverb- laden reveries heard on his Sea Charge album over a decade ago.
Morning Phase moves on that path but is less dense and has an acoustic base underneath its airy textures.
Beck’s songs are built for the lighter-than-air soundwaves which float them along. In spite of this seeming levity, these songs have weight and beautiful chordal sequences.
As an abstractionist, Beck used to mingle his visionary retro fixation with audacious shows to get his point across. Now he’s moved into a role as a futuristic troubadour using electronics and strings to support his musings (Wave).
He really doesn’t sound like anything else out there. His sound evokes the past, can be cheekily brash, common denominator- basic, or classic in content (Don’t Let It Go).
On many Beck albums it’s a blissfully strange ride until a certain song comes along and makes you go, “Oh yeah!” On Morning Phase, the ride is repeated, deep and inspired, and the song that first connects is Blue Moon. From the “I’m so tired of being alone” opening line of the song, the song’s an uplift all the way through.
Beck and band sound like they recorded in a mountain meadow and the album’s pristine ambiance recalls The Beatles’ high water marks, And I Love Her and Norwegian Wood.
The music on Morning Phase is hopeful and mournful in spirit and sound, and the wind blows a mood through the album that’s timeless.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician based in Vernon, B.C. who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.