Special to AMFM Magazine by Kristy Alberty
This week marks the release of Beck’s newest album, “Morning Phase,” coming almost 6 years after his last record, Modern Guilt. It is a distinct departure from the latter, with a dramatically slower and more mellow mood, impressive orchestration and a contemplative — almost meditative at times — tone.
It’s his 12th studio album — the first with Capitol records — and is a “companion piece,” he says, to his 2002 work, Sea Change. His father, composer and arranger David Campbell, contributed significantly on many of the tracks.
Full of lush orchestral swells and thoughtful, melancholy lyrics rife with themes of solitude, longing, awakenings and new beginnings, it’s a stark contrast to the quasi-psychedelic intensity and heavy percussive style of the previous project.
The first cut, one of two instrumental-only tracks, “Cycle,” beckons you in slowly, feeling almost like a film score with beautiful, rising waves of strings, then segues seamlessly into “Morning,” where you hear unmistakable echoes of “The Golden Age” from his album Sea Change.
He stacks layers of his own harmonies on “Turn Away” and “Heart Is A Drum,” saying he was inspired by the higher, softer, less strenuous vocal qualities of artists like Art Garfunkel.
He started recording the album five years ago in Nashville, he says, but returned to Los Angeles to complete it. His time in the South certainly seems to have lent a tinge of country influence on a few songs, such as “Say Goodbye” and “Blackbird Chain,” with their decidedly laid-back vocals and easy guitar strumming. This aspect, however, may be most evident on the aptly-named “Country Down.”
Other musical influences also come to mind on “Don’t Let It Go,” which evokes Iron & Wine’s “Boy With a Coin,” and “Turn Away,” which bears an ironic and striking resemblance to David Gilmour’s sound in the Pink Floyd track “On The Turning Away,” from their later album, Momentary Lapse of Reason.
He’s not been idle since his last release, having cut two albums in the last several years that he opted to shelve — both a rock and a country record — as well as producing for other artists, including Charlotte Gainsbourg and Thurston Moore. He also spent a significant amount of time recovering from a debilitating back injury and, oddly, a black widow spider bite. It seems, however, that the difficulties were nothing more than a temporary setback that hasn’t stopped the flow of creativity, but perhaps stimulated it.