Just when you think you’ve got Beck figured out he goes and changes everything up.
His twelfth studio album, Morning Phase, is a departure from his “patented sound.” Gone is the sample-heavy production style, the penchant for funk and soul, the love of distortion and dissonance — the sounds that mainstream Beck audiences have come to know and love him for (hence the quotes around patented before). In its place is an emphasis on vocals and lyrics, a simplistic yet lush production style and an ethereal folk sound that seems ripped from the Age of Aquarius.
As an album, the sound is absolutely magnificent. The overt musical layers Beck is known for have been subdued greatly, but luckily not muted. Give this record a close listen and you’ll hear the richness of the production of each track. Instead of dazzling us with over-the-top reinterpretations of funk and soul, Beck has woven his layers into the DNA of each track, creating an atmosphere more than a sound for the record.
This subtlety allows for Beck to make the most important sonic weapon of this record be his voice. Each track is driven by an ethereal, near-spiritualized sounding Beck. He’s able to capture that beyond the cosmos trippiness while rooting his vocals in the earnestness of ’60s folk. Think of a less dissonant Dylan singing in the ether and that’s Morning Phase.
To be fair, this isn’t a record you can pick songs off of to add to your playlist or even to pinpoint as the definitive song of the album. It’s more of an musical journey that has to experienced as a whole in order to be fully appreciated. And this is where criticism can come in. There’s nothing that stands out on the album, no song or handful of songs define this record. In fact, the songs just seem to blend together — it’s as if the sum is more important than the parts. The individual songs aren’t memorable, but the album itself is. It’s an odd occurrence and one listeners could definitely and justifiably take issue with.
Beck made a bold statement with this record — he doesn’t need his usual bag of tricks to create a lasting and masterful record. So, let’s make an equally bold statement — Beck’s Morning Phase is the best release of 2014 and will undoubtedly be regarded as such as the ball drops in Times Square in 10 months.