Beck – Morning Phase Review

History will treat Beck Hansen very kindly and rightly so. He may not have had the perceived idea of commercial success, but more than that, he has the universal respect that his music over the last twenty two years justifies so well. I can still say this with confidence despite not wholeheartedly investing in to his music. You should not expect this to be the stereotypical bland and safe effort from your forty plus rock star since he doesn’t seem like one for stooping to safe and making things for the sales alone. Morning Phase is his first studio album since 2008’s Modern Guilt and so perhaps this is the biggest expectation that there has been for a Beck album since the mid nineties. He has said himself that this, his twelfth studio album is a continuation from the out of focus and ‘Sadcore’ pioneering Sea Change from 2002. How will this fit into 2014?

‘Blue Moon’ was the first single to be unveiled from the album and it begins to live up to the style plied twelve years ago. It opens with the heartbeat-like bass drum with the light acoustic elements trickling down upon it with the deep and heavy piano chords reverbing through it in the background. The light twinges of the lead guitar seeps through the analogue elements and the percussion catches the tone well. The song is recorded with a slight echo with is cut off rather early and almost sounds like it is being fed back into the vocal for a subdued and rotating quality which is much more effective when applied to his vocal. The sad and lonely feel of the song is countered by the optimistic undertones of the music. The atmospheric quality is also completely natural and pure and shows just what you can still achieve with acoustic music. You’d hope that more will follow his example in the future. ‘Waking Light’ see’s him pushing what would seem a tired and worn out genre to new expanses. It opens as a solemn piano ballad with that slow divulging bass line stringing it along. The vocals are oh so subtly and wonderfully manipulated with that isolated echo and in the chorus it is slowly slips back into the floating string section and spliced out percussion into a magnificent soundscape to shut off the world and become completely immersed in. It sends shivers down the spine in an all so effortless and at ease fashion in a sort of new form of the greatest Prog Rock songs. The lead guitar melodies only enhance the experience and set up a multitude of the senses. Masterfully arranged, performed and produced.

‘Wave’ is a fantastical and all powerful song, but again with so much ease and relaxation. The dense string arrangement hits a powerful and simply loud peak as it rises and falls. The vocal delivery and manipulation is easily the best I have heard so far this year and probably last year by a very long distance. Beck’s voice competes with the mighty strings with a heavy mid echo that almost cusps the strings in the palm of his hands. This results in his vocal being just as dense and loud as the strings but just as graceful and even more of an awesome force. Both of the elements are never joined by any others and no more are needed the space is filled and expanded by the strings and the vocals alone. Amazing power created from such a minimal structure. ‘Unforgiven’ picks you up of your feet with the reverbing strings before the modulated as disparate sounds of the piano and the distorted percussion slowly take you away to somewhere else. The vocals again are simply sublime in the way the are presented and beautifully refined and restrained in their delivery and again so full of awe and wonder. ‘Heart is a Drum’ has the sort of acoustic and folk rock quality reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel with the delicate vocal harmonies and soft lapping nature of the track. ‘Country Down’ forges a space rock groove into an acoustic folk song and pulls the atmosphere out from it brilliantly. ‘Blackbird Chain’ and ‘Say Goodbye’ feature more immediate and matter of fact vocals around more late sixties rock pop styles. Each style utilised is perfectly crafted and moulded and so immaculate in it’s delivery and structure. The album is a great and fascinating journey to become totally immersed in and some of the tracks evoke such a powerful and trembling delivery. There is no rapid and high fuelled barnstormer, but for that I am thankful. The mood and tone he has set out has been stuck to efficiently but the various genres are manipulated through this so cunningly. Easily the greatest album of the year so far and will be right up there by December. So much for any upcoming albums to live up to.

Beck – Morning Phase = 10/10



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