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Morning Phase - CAPITOL
FILTER Grade: 87%

By Zack Kraimer on February 25, 2014



Chameleon that he is, it would have been natural to expect a new offering from Beck to explore some eccentric foreign terrain. While Morning Phase instead travels on more familiar ground, it’s with new insight and an unshakeable sense of completion. The album isn’t so much a narrative as it is a snapshot of a figurative pre-dawn. It’s a moment frozen in place, spacious despite its apparent restraint—it’s a calmly inventive record from a perpetually curious songwriter. There’s a fluid, rich warmth to it, which makes even the relative lulls feel substantive. Enveloping vocal harmonies abound, calling back to all manner of California music and so vibrant that they counterbalance the drowsiness of the moody, contemplative collection.

In some ways, Morning Phase seems like (and has been touted as) a sonic companion to Sea Change, but Beck has collected a lot of experiences since 2002. It’s even more focused than Sea Change—the songs and arrangements have been pared down even further, and what remains is simply Beck’s hushed, hazy essence. Beck produced Morning Phase himself, and while that makes for a cohesive listen, consulting with another trusted producer could have coaxed out some of the freewheeling unpredictability that once characterized his music. Beck’s father and resident string arranger, David Campbell, returns this time to an even fuller effect, but the arrangements are more than simple accompaniment. They’re woven into the songs neatly and with great care, and the result comes off effortless and natural. The string intro and interlude, respectively “Cycle” and “Phase,” add a specific structural formality, as if to set the pace for a symphony. Morning Phase is more than a ’60s folk-rock retrospective, though it handles that end with finesse— even with its reliance on such a small era of influence, Beck’s final product emerges sounding timeless and confident. 


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