Story by Zach Dresch
“When the morning comes to meet you, open your eyes with waking light.” This is the closing line to the last song “Waking Light” on Beck’s new album Morning Phase. It seemed appropriate to open my review with what the main message of what this album is about, and really the only way to figure that out is to listen to the album yourself and see how you personally would interpret it.
Morning Phase is Beck’s 12th studio album, and throughout his career, he has never been known to play it safe. He was playing with samples and rapping before it was cool to do so, and he did so with tongue-in-cheek. Known for never making the same album twice, Beck has revolutionized the alternative scene as we know it, and with each album it is clear that he sets out to not conform and to write music in his own unique original way. This album is no exception.
Morning Phase is self-described by Beck as a “companion piece” to his 2002 album Sea Change, which is arguably his best work he has done up to this point. Sea Change chronicled the struggles of a relationship and the emotional journey of a man going through a break-up. This time around lyrically it deals with someone going through a rough time but realizing that in the end, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I have heard the album being referred to as “an optimistic version of Sea Change“, and it definitely is true.
The entire album consists of slow, emotional folk songs that are wrapped in beautiful string arrangements, arranged by Beck’s father David Campbell. Campbell also arranged the orchestral instruments on Sea Change, further bringing on all the comparisons from the 2002 album.
As for the songs themselves, each track has a defining quality to it in the sense that each track is a continued journey towards self-discovery and at its conclusion, there is a sense of hope. Tracks such as “Morning” and “Waking Light” long for a fresh start. “Can we start it all over again this morning?” is a line Beck repeats in the former track, while first single “Blue Moon” is a track filled with desperation and a reverb-filled vocal performance. “Don’t leave me on my own”, cries out Beck during the chorus.
“Wave” is a beautiful track that is dark and extremely melancholic in tone, with Beck simply singing “isolation” over and over again to the point where you know this is the part of his journey where he begins to feel alone and doubt himself. “Turn Away” comes in two tracks later to give you a better sense of hope and encouragement.
This is a difficult album to describe because it has so many layers to it. Beck has a way of making the listener relate with what he is saying, sometimes while barely saying anything. His emotional lyrics go together so well with his simple arrangements that one can only stop, sit and listen to the music and take it in all in one sitting.
The best tracks on the album are spread out throughout the album, which is always a plus. If you throw all the great tracks at the beginning, it ruins the album-listening experience. “Morning”, “Blue Moon”, and “Waking Light” are my favorites on the album, and there are a couple of tracks that give the record a lower score in my opinion, such as “Blackbird Chain” since there’s a lack of emotional depth in my personal opinion. However, that does not detract from the album as a whole, as the whole thing is sequenced incredibly well.
Morning Phase comes at a time where I really resonate with what Beck’s subject matter is all about. Had I heard the album at a different time period of my life, I might not have thought anything about it. However, the music is all about remaining optimistic even while you struggle with feelings of isolation, loss of hope, and overall pessimism. These are subjects I am all too familiar with, but I digress from my main point.
I can’t recommend this album enough to fans of Beck, fans of folk music, and fans of heart-on-your-sleeve music that is relatable and engaging. The album combines somberness and melancholy with a sense of aspiration and buoyancy. Beck is one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation, and he proves this with Morning Phase.