March 3 2014
Beck Hansen returns from his 6 year hiatus with an album that sounds as healing as it does heartbroken. Morning Phase, an apparent cousin to his 2002 album, Sea Change is a relation sonically that hit me right away. It was an album comparable in scope to Bon Iver’s second album. Reason being, it takes you through a journey all the way throughout with a very common thread without sounding at all repetitive. Between the soothing strings that come in, to Beck’s lush vocals that sometimes fall away into the rest of the atmosphere of the song, it would seem as though this could be Beck’s masterpiece up to this point.
Thematically, the tracks have a common theme that sticks with you. With lyrics like “This morning I let down my defenses” or “somewhere unforgiven, time will wait for you” show a Beck Hansen who has seemingly come full circle with heartbreak and is almost letting his problems out in a sonically therapeutic manner. All of the songs come from a very sincere standpoint and may be on par with Beck’s songwriting in his classic album Sea Change. The reason Sea Change has been mentioned for the second time is because it is quite obvious that he was in the same headspace when creating this project. There are several more elements inside this album though. Oddly enough Jon Brion’s score in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes to mind right away when hearing several of the instrumental aspects of the song (ironic as Beck is actually in that soundtrack for the credits). This influence is very apparent on intro and interlude tracks “Cycle” and “Phase”. Speaking in a broader sense, with these two songs, plus several others with string arrangements, it gives the album a very cinematic quality. Melodically, there are times when a very “mid to late 70’s singer-songwriter style” comes into play.
For many of the songs, one may think of James Taylor as a key inspiration, as many tracks have a folksy quality to them. In a matter of fact, comparisons to James Taylor may not be an absolutely crazy idea. Besides how Hansen is dressed on the cover of the album (looking a hell of a lot like how James Taylor used to dress), he has a lot of the elements Taylor had in his music such as similar chord progression, a lot of the country-tinged guitar licks, and the aforementioned stadium-filling orchestra atmosphere in the background that are most dominant in the hooks. There is also a lot of Simon & Garfunkel influences heard as well such as in “Turn Around” where the harmonizations are clearly inspired by the folk-duo. This is not to say though that he is “copying” these prolific artists by any means, but more like just using a similar formula to how they created music back then.
If Morning Phase shows anything, it shows what an authentic artist Beck is. The soul put into the album is felt on first listen starting off with the incredibly moving song “Morning”. After repeated listen, there is no doubt that this is indeed Hansen’s opus and will be memorable for just about anyone who listens whether one is a Beck fan or not. It is uplifting yet broken, it is beautiful yet imperfect---and most importantly, it is what music should be, an art.