The Melancholy Mr. Beck – “Morning Phase” is fantastic.

Beck Morning Phase

An early front-runner has emerged for best album of the year. I know it’s early, but the bar has been set pretty high with Morning Phase, the newest full release from Beck.

I don’t closely follow Beck’s career.  I know he has been keeping a relatively low profile for a handful of years.  That’s not to say he hasn’t been busy, just not I’m-ready-to-promote-myself ready.  He suffered a spinal injury a while back that made playing music a challenge.  But he’s feeling better, and we are rewarded with my favorite kind of Beck; introspective melancholy guy!

The new album has been universally compared to Beck’s 2002 classic Sea Change.  Many of the same musicians were brought back from those sessions for Morning Phase, and the songs are similar in somber tone.   But lyrically, while the new tunes are introspective and a tad vague, they don’t seem quite as sad as those of Sea Change. Don’t get me wrong – sadness and isolation are certainly themes.  There are several mentions to struggling under the ocean’s waves or caught in its undertow, but it is referenced more as a desire than as a consequence.  As if it’s needed to experience some kind of rebirth.  There is self-evaluation in these lyrics, and a recognition that transformation is needed.  Yes, I’m screwed up, but that can’t be the end of it.  The title, Morning Phase, suggests that the events of the metaphorical previous night are over, and the painful enlightenment of a new day has arrived.  And while it’s easy to hear that and think “whoa, bummer”, I see it as positive, forward movement.  There is hope in even the most difficult of self-realization.

But what really makes this album soar is the lush and beautiful instrumentation.  There is a balance of gorgeous orchestration and simple folk melodies.  There is a Neil Youngesque quality to much of this.  You can even make the analogy Beck’s Morning Phase is to Sea Change as Neil Young’s Harvest Moon is to Harvest.  All of these records explore similar sounds and themes.

Morning Phase is perfect back deck chill music.  Especially on an overcast day.  If you can be coastal, in view of the crashing waves, even better.  It’s whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  That’s not to say that there aren’t great individual songs here.  “Blue Moon”, “Heart is a Drum”, “Waking Light”, “Wave”, “Morning” – all of these, along with the rest of the tracks, stand alone quite beautifully.  But this collection works so good as a complete album, that experience will reward you better than any individual song will.  I popped it in my ear buds while taking a long, post-rain walk yesterday.  Bliss.

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~ by themattmorrisshow on March 2, 2014.

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