Beck’s 12th studio album is a welcome return to his singer-songwriter side. His overdue follow up to 2008’s Modern Guilt has been touted as a companion piece to Sea Change, arguably Beck’s strongest album. It would be easy to point out the similarities between the 2002 classic and Morning Phase, at least in song structure and instrumentation. Many of the same musicians who worked on Sea Change return for Beck’s latest collection of confessional, emotionally stark songs. Indeed, “Morning” sounds like a cousin to “The Golden Age” in terms of arrangement. However, Beck may be working within a familiar sonic palette but the results are heart-wrenching, quietly beautiful and stand among his best work.

“Blue Moon” blends sunny harmonies and the stylings of California folk, throwing in nods to Nick Drake for good measure. The boldest of the new material finds Beck at his bleakest. “Unforgiven” is a melancholic ballad punctuated by distorted keys and Beck’s distant, fragile voice. The darkest song Beck has ever written might very well be “Wave.” Beck’s hopeless, isolated voice accompanied by an entire orchestra creates an austere and disquieting atmosphere. It is hard to believe that this is the same guy who wrote “Loser.”

Beginning with the inspiring strings of “Cycle” and ending with the commanding gravitas of “Waking Light,” Morning Phase is an accomplishment. Not only has Beck retained his legacy after a six-year gap between albums, but he has also crafted a worthy successor to Sea Change.

By James Olson

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