Sunday, March 09, 2014

Beck - Morning Phase

I was going to write a review of the new Beck album but why bother writing a review when the one you were going to write was written (pretty much exactly) by someone else? Everyone makes the obvious comparison to Beck's 2002 classic Sea Change, one of my favorite albums of the past 20 or 30 years, and yes, there is certainly a resemblance to Sea Change, particularly in the tempos, the choice of instrumentation, the lush production, and his voice. Sea Change came reportedly after a bad breakup so the songs tend to have a deep melancholy tenor. Here, the tone is slow, languid, but ever so slightly positive. There is a weariness to the joy, but it is joy nevertheless. If anything, in tone, the album resembles some of the slow songs off the Velvet Underground's 1967 Velvet Underground & Nico ("Sunday Morning," "I"ll Be Your Mirror," etc.). Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Beck did a cover of that entire album a few years ago, which was actually quite good.

Although I have known about Beck and heard his music for decades, until about 2009, most of my interaction with his canon has been passive. I remember hearing "Loser" when it came out in the early 1990s and loving it (I still do). His various party albums were played at college and we danced to them. Love me some "Devil's Haircut." But I never actually went out and got one, even if I knew exactly what he meant when was talked about "two turntables and a microphone." And honestly this has to be one of the best dance songs of all time:

So it was a shock when, around 2009, I heard Sea Change, which was COMPLETELY different. First of all, it was earnest, there was not a single ironic note on the album. The songs were simple, they weren't trying to bridge entirely different genres, and largely based in a kind of folk rock idiom, kind of like Buffalo Springfield's softer moments, maybe the Flying Burrito Brothers. You know that song "Moonlight Mile" by the Rolling Stones, the song that closes Sticky Fingers? It is a gorgeous song (apparently written mostly by Mick Jagger and Mick Taylor):

While Beck does not approach such genius stratospheric heights, Sea Change was a little like the sound of "Moonlight Mile" (but with better production and more acoustic guitar) spread across an entire album. Morning Phase, the new album, is a bit like that and a pleasure to listen to. All the lush orchestration, the muffled drums, and upfront acoustic guitars envelops you, like bathing in sound. The songs are generally simple in terms of chords but rich in terms of arrangement. Beck's voice is aglow with reverb, like he is speaking to us from a canyon.

The first song on the album ("Morning") pretty much communicates its ambition and scope:

It's amazing how similar it sounds to the very first song on Sea Change:

Here he is performing another track from the new album, "Blue Moon," on Saturday Night Live last week:

Anyway, it's a great album, for sure. One of the best of the year so far. I've been listening to it non-stop since it came out.


Meep said...

My friends used to give me shit for not appreciating Beck. I tried to get into their music but just never really liked them. I'm going back and listening to Sea Change now.

Here's another new musician I came across the other day, Nick Mulvey - Fever to the Form.

Have you heard of London Grammar? Their new album is quite good. Brooding vocals , ambient and ethereal sounds. See what you think

spaceman said...

Yeah, I wasn't that much of a fan of Beck until I heard Sea Change.

Thanks for the tip on Nick Mulvey. Will check it out.

I do know London Grammar. Like their stuff. They remind me a bit of the Xx, especially "Hey Now." I'll have a post soon.

Patrick McCray said...

Nice post, spaceman. Sea Change was the first Beck album I took seriously. I like the new one too.