Published on February 27th, 2014 | by MacKenzie Warner0
Beck – Morning Phase
Beck’s music has always been an important part of my life. At family gatherings, my brother Max and I would show off our memorization skills by rapping ‘Loser’ in its entirety. While hanging out with my unusually cool parents, we would have music nights: a tradition that consisted of each of us playing a song that would have to appropriately follow the previous selection. Inevitably, Beck would come up. And later when I was 17, my youngest brother was born. Can you guess what his name is? Yep. It’s Beck. So it’s with genuine happiness that I get to write about Beck’s newest album, Morning Phase, after the six-year hiatus since Modern Guilt.
Given the generic chaos of our lives, it’s refreshing to put on a lazy, warm album like Morning Phase. Perhaps it’s fitting that Beck is calling it his “California album,” not in relation to the ‘surf and sun’ sound à la The Beach Boys, but rather to the dreamy psychedelic sounds that dominated California in the 60s and 70s. It has also been called the companion album to Beck’s 2002 album, Sea Change. In fact, Sea Change musicians, drummer Joey Waronker, keyboard player Roger Manning, and guitarists Smokey Hormel and Jason Falkner, came back to record the new album. As a result, there is a striking resemblance in sound and style. But where Sea Change is drenched in sorrow, Morning Phase flirts with optimism.
Sea Change was written after Beck ended a nine-year relationship with his then fiancé, Leigh Limon. Songs on that album like ‘Golden Age’ and ‘Lost Cause’ reflect the intense pain and heartbreak of love lost. Still, they sparkle and shimmer. This is where Sea Change and Morning Phase are similar: it’s as if Sea Change left a glimmer of hope for a better future and the new album picked up where it left off. It’s in a somewhat better place now. The song, ‘Heart is a Drum’ is a good example of optimism coming through. Though still melancholic, the melody is airy and bright. It reminds me of the uncharacteristically happy song, ‘Hazy Jane II’ off Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter. I’m certainly not the first to make this Nick Drake connection.
Other songs like ‘Cycle,’ ‘Wave,’ and, ‘Phase,’ share a quiet tension. The strings and brass parts (provided by Beck’s father, David Campbell) are incredibly lush and haunting. In a Rolling Stone interview, Beck said, “There’s this feeling of tumult and uncertainty, getting through that long, dark night of the soul — whatever you want to call it…These songs were about coming out of that — how things do get better.” The sense I get is that these songs are set at a time when you’re just starting to wake, not fully aware of time or space, the moment before your memory comes to you. The day hasn’t been decided yet by your thoughts: a phase that only happens in the morning after sleeping.
‘Morning’ itself is an optimistic thing. It’s a fresh start. A new day. What happened to you yesterday has passed. Beck’s Morning Phase puts Sea Change behind and looks up rather than back. Sure, they share a mutual sadness, but time has passed and wounds have healed. Beck, known for mastering all kinds of genres, has tried something new by picking up the pieces of Sea Change and reimagining them in new context: a decidedly more comforting and dreamy one. With that, Morning Phase confirms my unwavering adoration for Beck.