Think Outside the Boom Box: Beck returns with ‘Morning Phase’

Music columnist Patrick McKenna on the artist’s latest masterpiece

By Patrick McKenna | Feb. 25, 2014

Tags: Music

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The ever-changing, always ranging, totally amazing Beck has returned after a dormant period of six years, with an album that’ll sooth, serenade and send listeners into a euphoric state of what I’d like to coin as “Beckcitement.”

Beckcitement is something only achieved when feeling an extreme sense of joy on account of a moment with Beck’s music. I had my first stint of Beckcitement after hearing the masterpiece “Debra,” in 1999’s Midnite Vultures for the first time three years ago. I was so madly in love that I could barely breath.

Since then, I’ve been a huge fan, and have been awaiting new material to astound me as much as the artist’s other work has.

My wishes have finally been met.

An artist who basically defines the term “versatile,” Beck has covered genres such as anti-folk, classic soul, psychedelic-country and hip-hop — sometimes all in the same album. He’s built a reputation on a capability of creating almost anything musical, and it’s something fans respect him most for.

With his collage of musical styles, ironic and emotional lyrics and astounding live presence, Beck has been hailed by critics and the public throughout his career as being amid the most creative and eccentric musicians of 1990s and 2000s alternative rock.

With his latest album, Morning Phase, Beck brings out a sound similar to his 2002 record Sea Change, an album frequently referred to as his masterpiece. Beck uses a more acoustic and folky backdrop instead of rock, while adding luscious string arrangements throughout the piece to keep the splendor of the record alive and well (note to reader: the mesmerizing string orchestrations on the album are done by David Richard Campbell, Beck’s father). Holding a consistent down-tempo style of slow, brooding beauties that sneak up on listeners and grab them with such ferocity, you’d never think it’s just some pretty strings.

Morning Phase defines serenity. The album’s overarching theme is the individual’s life in the late night/early morning hours. Whether it be feeling alienation (as Beck so clearly does with a repeated howl of the word to end “Wave”) or contemplating ideas, there’s always something emotional on the brain in the quietest hours of the day, and Beck wants to sing about it.

The album opens with a distant, full orchestra-style string arrangement; it’s as if listeners are gliding out to sea on a canoe without a care in the world. The opening track transitions into one of the album’s high points, “Morning,” a song led by a simple acoustic chord with a crooning Beck belting lyrics both heart-wrenching and pure.

Morning Phase jumps between rich ballads of loss and despair (see “Wave” and “Turn Away”) and optimistic, shining affirmations in regards to coping with self-doubt.

The best track from Morning Phase is undeniably “Blue Moon.” Possibly the most upbeat song of the LP, “Blue Moon” is striking in its mandolin-led tempo and surprising in its multiple stylistic U-turns, but beyond anything, gorgeous.

There are few musical doors Beck has yet to explore, yet the seriousness mixed in with dazzling instrumentation on this record is a place Beck hadn’t quite conquered. With Morning Phase, Beck asserts his place in modern music hasn’t been diminished in the slightest, returning with an album both majestic and intriguing.

It’s Beck, people. He really can do anything.

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