Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
Beck - 'Morning Phase'
The musical magpie adds majestic bleakness to classic Laurel Canyon folk rock on his 12th album
Touted as his ‘acoustic’ album, ‘Morning Phase’ is rather more symphonic than such a reductive description would have you believe. After the sweet orchestral swell of the 39-second opener ‘Cycle’, we drift into the lush ‘Morning’. With simple strumming laid over delicate drums that roll like Pacific waves, it’s a breezy, slow-paced nod to the oceanic swells of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s all too brief solo career. Here the sadness comes as subtle shoreside melancholy, with Beck plaintively cooing, “This morning/I let down all my defences”.
With his emotions on the line, in comes the softly psychedelic ‘Heart Is A Drum’, its shimmering instrumentation and heartworn harmonies straight from the lungs of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Twanging California guitars and a Gram Parsons lilt briefly lift the mood for ‘Say Goodbye’ and ‘Country Down’. Lead single ‘Blue Moon’ could be one of the most captivating things Beck has ever composed – a woozy bluegrass lament, spiralling around desperate calls of “Don’t leave me on my own”. The glumness is almost transcendental by the time we reach the orchestral misery of ‘Wave’, his echo-chamber vocals now intoning the word “isolation” over and over.
This isn’t LA in the blazing sunshine, as seen from a classic car cruising through Beverly Hills. This is the seedier fringes of the city just around twilight; Bukowski-like tales that feel warm with the afterglow of a party, but with a hangover on the way. It couples a moody sort of glamour with a concrete feeling of loneliness, and it makes for some of the most affecting comedown folk you’re likely to hear all year.
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