By this point in his 12-album, 21-year recording career, Beck has been called a lot of things — but never truly “consistent.” Since rising out of the primordial soup of early ’90s anti-folk, he has deftly shown himself to be a Jack of all genres, dabbling with similar proportions in country, psychedelica, hip-hop, funk, folk and every imaginable hybrid thereof. There has always been an unambiguously “Beckish” quality in his work, but it has never been too obvious from where exactly this tone comes. Some might argue for his unique dry irony, but even this is absent from a few albums, such as his newest, Morning Phase.
Regardless, this album displays something of a return to Beckish form in comparison to 2008’s Modern Guilt. While the previous album was produced by Danger Mouse and thus sounded kind of identical to most other Danger Mouse-produced albums, Morning Phase is self-produced, and Beck’s creative style of songwriting shines through once more. It’s his most folk-tinted work since Sea Change in 2002, sharing its down-tempo pacing throughout as well as its reliance on acoustic guitar backdrops. However, the two are different in subtle ways. Whereas the earlier album plays out like a forlorn, melancholy breakup album, this year’s release comes across as more tranquil morning music — a wake-up album, if you will.
Each song manages to achieve its own beauty that simply demands repeat listens for full appreciation. “Turn Away” happens to be among both the quietest and most memorable. Beck’s slow addition of soft harmonies and strings crescendos and resolves in an incredibly satisfying way, sounding a bit like Fleet Foxes had the band drawn inspiration from Neil Young rather than Fleetwood Mac. The highlight comes on “Waking Light,” which ends the album with a crisp, empowering piano ballad. It’s substance over style on Morning Phase, an increasingly rare but well-appreciated move.
Contact Erik Weiner at [email protected].