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November 22, 2014
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Review: New sound dawns on producer

Orchestral strings emerge, building to an almost unbearable volume, followed by soft drums and gentle guitar, which set the stage for the euphonious yet gentle musicality in Beck’s 12th studio album, “Morning Phase.” The record, which released Feb. 25. on Capitol Records, encapsulates a different side of Beck’s songwriting, one that is more reserved and intimate than most of his releases in the last decade.

There is a growing interest surrounding “Morning Phase” in that many critics, and Beck himself, have described it as a complementary record or sequel to 2002’s critically acclaimed “Sea Change.” But there are also distinct elements of the album that sound refreshing and new.

For instance, the album shows a change in production for Beck, merging the psychedelic pop characteristics of his earlier days with a newer, more beat-heavy mix. This results in an unusually full-sounding yet ambient texture for the majority of the songs, but is particularly prevalent in tracks like “Blue Moon,” which initially comes off as a hybrid of Pink Floyd and U2. This mix may seem strange, but like many of Beck’s musical experiments, the end result sounds beautifully delicate.

The instrumentation of the album is busier than ever, with guitar and banjo picking emerging between each verse in the song “Say Goodbye.” For the most part, the slow, laid-back instrumentation works well to support melancholy lines like, “These are the words we used to say goodbye,” but at times, the extra sounds get in the way of the ideas and emotions Beck is trying to convey.

In “Sea Change,” the song’s themes carry the same gloomy emotional weight, with Beck singing about love, loss and the usual morose topics of his more mellow music. But this time around, the despondent ethos is joined by an air of indifference. The artist sings lines like, “Somewhere unforgiven, I will wait for you,” with a cool and confident voice. No longer is he immersing himself and the listener in depressing topics; now it seems as if he is stylistically dancing around them, studying them from afar. This makes the album, as a whole, much more approachable and less self-indulgent than previous releases.

Many fans and listeners claim Beck drew from his past albums when developing “Morning Phase,” but while the album is obviously an homage to records like “Sea Change,” the musician is clearly looking to go beyond what he did 12 years ago. With a bolder production and outlook, the prolific singer-songwriter is showing that, in terms of overall songwriting style, he is certainly not looking back.