Dom Listens to Music: Beck – Morning Phase

This was necessary. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who issued an audible “What?!” when Beck not only won Best Rock Album at the Grammys, but Album Of The Year over the likes of Beyonce, Pharrell, and Ed Sheeran in a very tough category. This project of mine was conceived well before the 2015 Grammys, but in regards to this project, this album was a gift. I’m sure I’m one of thousands that are listening to this album based on the controversy around it, but does Morning Phase deserve Album Of The Year?

Morning Phase is a concise, neatly wrapped package from an artist mature in his craft. Beck’s career has been rather eccentric, and I approached this album with no expectations. The first song “Cycle,” acts as a short prelude that sets the tone for the album: subdued. Morning Phase is not without energy, but for the most part, you can expect an album of mellow, folk acoustic-based songs. The album is structured around Beck’s organic guitar and his layers of lush vocals. A lesser known fact: Morning Phase won the 2015 Grammy for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical). That’s a given. This album sounds fantastic. The subtlety (yet unwavering presence) of the drumkit leaves just enough space for the layers of vocals, synths, pianos, resonators, and guitars to slot into the mix.

There’s an odd dichotomy between the organic qualities of the folk instrumentation, and the (at times) heavily processed vocals and mix elements. It works for the most part. The long flanger on the piano during “Unforgiven” will catch your ear as it adds a touch of digital movement to an otherwise sparse song. The most ambitious moment on this album would have to be “Wave.” The song is trancelike: a slow drawn-out string arrangement pierced by Beck’s haunting voice. The song ends with a chant of “Isolation” that rises and falls, but manages to avoid landing on a helplessly depressing note.

The album is by no means inaccessible. Songs like “Heart Is a Drum,” and “Blackbird Chain,” could function as radio singles. The album ends on a (relatively) loud note with “Waking Light,” which I can imagine will become a staple of live performances.

Morning Phase isn’t a perfect album. It lacks diversity. Beck gets full marks for maintaining a hushed and reserved atmosphere throughout the album, but I can’t help but feel a little worn-out by the end. It seems as if Beck dragged out a story that could have been told in half the space. The album occasionally suffers some weak lyrical content, and repetitiveness that makes the 13 track album feel longer than it is. Every time the album finished, I was left craving something to break the spell of solemness it leaves behind. It can be overbearing.

It would be unfair for me to agree or disagree with those who’ve awarded Morning Phase with the Grammy for Album of The Year as I haven’t heard the other albums in that category. I can however say with certainty that Beck has given us an album that many will ease into. Morning Phase will find it’s place among those who are looking for a cozy relaxed relatability. It’s a very inoffensive effort, which is both its major pro and con. Be it cliché, but “Morning Phase,” is as accurate a description you need to approach this album. If it finds you in the right mood, it will linger like a fine wine. Otherwise, it may smear itself as a somber novel that lacks glimmer.

Select Listening: 

  • Blackbird Chain
  • Say Goodbye
  • Country Down

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Editor’s Note: Hey everybody, Corey here! As you can probably imagine, our friend and music aficionado Domenic Innocente is joining the Button Masher crew as the new lead music editor. We wanted to give more attention to the site’s music section, and think that bringing Dom on board will let us do just that in the biggest and best way!

So, if all goes according to plan, once a week you can look forward to an album review by Dom. Some weeks the album in question may be relevant to current music news, and other weeks Dom might just dig into obscurity or other genres to expand both his and your musical horizons.

I hope you’ll tag along with this new musical endeavor!

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