I used to swim out to a raft with my Sony Walkman held above the water. I loved to lie in the sun and feel the wind blowing across my body. Before I discovered yoga and meditation, sunning and listening to music was my respite from life. Beck Morning Phase is the kind of record I would have listened to out on the raft—awake but drifting with the gentle rocking motion of the water—the sound of motorboats fading into the background.
Morning Phase sleeve photography by Autumn De Wilde
I picked up Morning Phase in the depths of what seemed like the millionth Polar Vortex of the season, and that was the memory that popped into my head. I felt like I was swimming out to that raft, and experiencing all the metaphoric things that a raft implies.
If you’re looking for the witty vocals and trippy beats that characterize most of Beck’s radio friendly stuff, you won’t find it this time around. Beck’s twelfth studio album, Morning Phase, is said to be a companion piece for his eighth album, Sea Change, the decidedly downbeat work recorded twelve years ago on the heels of his divorce.
While Morning Phase is another poignant and introspective album—the overall effect is more hopeful than depressing. There is a resignation to the present moment that feels comfortable. “I need to find someone to show me how to play it slow / And just let it go,” he sings on Heart Is A Drum. And on Waking Light: “Rise yourself to the morning alone / Night is gone… When the morning comes to meet you / Lay me down in waking light.”
Smooth vocal harmonies and folksy guitars feel equal bits Nick Drake (Don’t Let It Go), and Simon and Garfunkel (Heart Is A Drum, Turn Away) and are rounded out by beautiful cinematic orchestrations by Beck’s father, David Campbell. It’s the string arrangements that evoke some of Pink Floyd’s early work and give the album its dreamy, ethereal quality. The master is very clean, with few vocal or instrumental effects and it’s a good album for active listening. I’ve been playing it back to back with Sea Change and loving it.
Beck’s work seems to fall into two camps: Introspection and playful commentary.
I think a lot of people were expecting this record to fall into the later camp but I suspect Morning Phase is closer to who he is musically at the core—or at the very least closer to his indie folk roots. Both Morning Phase and Sea Change are albums that will age gracefully—and the seamless play of a twelve year old album along side a current work is proof of that.
If there’s anything we can surmise about Beck as an artist it’s that he is comfortable writing in different voices and that is something I really admire about him.
Further reading/listening: NPR All things considered interview with Beck where he talks about Morning Phase and his creative process.