Sunday, 2 March 2014

REVIEW: Beck - 'Morning Phase' (Capitol Records)

After six years without the release of an album, it's evident that Beck Hansen wanted to return with his strongest collection of songs possible, and his new offering turns out to be an absolute pleasure to bask in. On the smartly cohesive 'Morning Phase' he puts the genre-splicing to one side in favour of a more direct, reflective sound flavoured by the sun-dazed vibes of vintage West Coast rock and Americana. Throughout the album shades of the Byrds, Crosby Stills And Nash, Gram Parsons and Neil Young are blended into alluring arrangements that lend the songs a rich atmospheric character.

Following the short sparkle of the intro 'Cycle', highlight 'Morning' is a hazy ray of melancholia gradually blossoming into a relaxed glow of sunshine, topped off with glorious harmonies before the warm piano and elegant pulse of 'Heart Is a Drum'. The steady tempo is maintained throughout the record as the easy going country tinged acoustic rock of 'Say Goodbye' comes across slightly reminiscent of an American Beta Band and is scattered with catchy melodies, while 'Blue Moon' is a yearning dreampop folk ballad where the tranquil ring of guitars mixes with mandolin and bewitching harmonies.

'Unforgiven' journeys into sparse, beautifully melancholic country trip-hop featuring characteristically radiant vocal reverb before the haunting 'Wave' takes the record to darker, lonelier places as bleak strings sigh and the "isolation" refrain is repeated to great effect. The light pours back in during the sweet positivity reflected by the peaceful 'Don't Let It Go' and the chiming warmth of the magnificent 'Blackbird Chain', while the brief orchestral reprise 'Phase' provides an interlude that comes at the perfect moment. Following the sorrowful acoustic mysteries of 'Turn Away', 'Country Down' delivers an alluring dusty road country ballad complete with gorgeous pedal steel notes and a charming harmonica solo, while the striking closer 'Waking Light' is where the heavens open up, the dazzling rays of its ecstatic chorus enrapturing the listener with uplifting power.

Returning with one of his strongest records to date, Beck reprises moods from 2002's much loved 'Sea Change' to create not just a more positive companion piece of sorts, but a fine album in its own right. 8.2/10

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