Record #253: Beck - Morning Phase (2014)
To say that Beck is one of the most celebrated artists of the last twenty years is a bit of a misnomer. Beck is in fact three or four separate artists fighting for power. You have the hip hop ironist (Mellow Gold, Odelay, The Information), the rock & roll archivist and experimentalist (the Record Club, the Song Book), pop classicist (Guero, Midnight Vultures), and space-bound, heart-rending singer-songwriter (Sea Change). Of all of Beck’s faces, his earnest face has always been my favorite. Sea Change is one of my favorite records of all time, its tender ballads paired with Nigel Godrich’s ambient production. And as much as I love The Information, and Guero and the like, I’ve long wished for a return to Sea Change’s earnestness. This year, Mr. Hansen delivered.
Much has been said about Beck’s mental and emotional state now compared to 2003. Then, he had just suffered a major breakup. Now, he is celebrating ten years of marriage and two children. Sea Change was an exercise in restraint. Morning Phase on the other hand is a celebration of freedom. Beck has credited his relative silence since Modern Guilt on a spine injury that induced physical pain while he played. Finally free of the wound, Morning Phase is stuffed with the exuberance of being able to chase his passion again.
But regardless of their differences, Morning Phase feels like the long awaited follow up to to the artist who debuted with Sea Change. And this time around, Beck himself takes production duties. The record is often as ambient as Godrich’s work, but lacking his trademark Radiohead-wrought paranoia. Instead, there is a charming glow over the work, leaning further into alternative country than Beck has ever dared. Spring reverbs bounce and clank around string sections while Beck, clear voiced as ever, sings some of his best songs yet. And for an artist(s) like Beck, that’s a tall order.
What he said. Probably the best of the year so far. I can’t stop listening. (Ignore that ignorant Pitchfork review of this record.)