Many musicians can write a sad song. But a sad song is just that. It’s one note - one emotion. Sad-verse-sad-chorus-sad-verse-end. Rare artists can take you on an emotional journey through the changing moods of an album. Even rarer artists can do so in the same song.
It’s been six years since we last heard from the likes of Beck Hansen. Always chameleonic, each release has become an inadvertent event, with the listener never quite knowing which Beck they were going to get. When Beck released Sea Change in 2002, people really didn’t quite know how to process it. A quiet, introspective album that knocked people on their collective asses first and foremost, BECAUSE it was quiet. It caught everyone off guard and was a complete about-face from the bombastic groove-laden hooks of Midnite Vultures, released only a couple of years previous. Once the shock wore off of course, everyone realized what a truly great album Sea Change was and grew to accept this acoustic, melancholy side of Beck right along with the hip, funkmeister side we’d all come to know and love.
So without that element of surprise, what are we to make of Morning Phase - an album that was announced from the get-go as a companion piece to the aforementioned Sea Change? Well for starters, we can skip the trepidation altogether and dive right in - and these are deep waters, my friends.
It becomes pretty clear early on due to tracks like “Morning” and “Wave” that while Morning Phase shares the same tone and sensibilities of Sea Change, it’s also a progression - eschewing the more sparse arrangements for lush orchestral strings and other accompaniments. Such musical embellishments serve the songs well - this album on the whole is a more layered and visual affair - with the rising emotional crescendos reminiscent of a Frank Darabont film.
There’s few artists that can get away with genre-busting like this without sounding like they’re full of shit. Or, at the very least leaving their credibility severely in question. Beck has managed to rise above all the dreck and the doubt with each successive album (this is his 12th), leaving him almost critic-proof. I say almost, because there’s always the cynical sorts ready to pounce on anything remotely vulnerable - ironic, as the majority of critics have also all too often sounded the battle cry of music that “lacks feeling”.
An album like Morning Phase is a disarming experience. There’s no ulterior motives here. No hidden agenda. Immersive and all-encompassing, this is the most meditative album we’re likely to hear all year. Minus the storytelling narrative, this is Beck’s Nebraska.