Beck has significantly retreated from the public eye over much of the last six years since releasing his last full-length album (2008's Modern Guilt). He's released a full set of new songs as sheet music, recorded a variety of covers with his friends, and embarked on the occasional tour, but fans have been waiting for a proper new album for a long time. That wait is now over — Beck's Morning Phase is streaming now in full from NPR ahead of its full release on February 25th.
Morning Phase has been described as a "sequel" to Beck's 2002 classic Sea Change — an album that eschewed his more traditional mashed-up, upbeat sound for lush, acoustic-driven soundscapes, a deliberate, sometimes ponderous tempo, and introspective, often bleak lyrics. At first listen, there's no doubt that Morning Phase owes a significant debt to the sonic palette of Sea Change, but it's much more a true spiritual sequel than a derivative follow-up. It's alternatingly intimate and spacious, traditional and oddball — and there's always a new sound following the ever-present strum of Beck's acoustic guitar.
"Get inside the new songs," writes NPR's Tom Moon, "and a more nuanced perspective emerges. There are surprisingly approachable settings here, songs that start with humble acoustic guitar and grow into vast and dazzling canyons of sound." And despite the sonic similarity to Sea Change, there's enough new ear candy here to keep listeners enthralled — take "Wave," a song built on a string arrangement orchestrated by Beck's father David Richard Campbell. "Here, you'll find no conventional strumming, no weepy pedal-steel guitar, no drums at all," describes Moon. "Just low strings droning in support of a disconsolate, almost detached vocal." If you're in the mood to try out a darker, stranger, and arguably more experimental version of Beck, put your headphones on, tune the world out, and listen to the entirety of Morning Phase over at NPR.