Beck – Morning Phase
When asked to describe what Beck sounds like, a single answer is hard to come by. One could point to Beck’s 1994 hit single “Loser”, which encompassed ’90s alternative folk and hip-hop into a delightful little tune that served as an anthem for the cultural underground while simultaneously propelling Beck into the mainstream. One could also point to Beck’s 1999 album Midnight Vultures, a party record that combined soul and funk into his repertoire of genres.
Beck has a wide array of sounds, and describing these sounds can be harder than it first appears. Beck’s twelfth studio album Morning Phase, points us towards to direction of finding the answer. Made as a companion record to his 2002 folk album Sea Change, Phase is a brooding and mournful record highlighted by acoustic guitar, string orchestration and a very somber Beck Hansen.
From beginning to end, Morning Phase brilliantly demonstrates Beck’s growth in maturity as a songwriter, not just from his “Loser” days, but even from Sea Change. It’s always great hearing Beck blend genres into an alternative piece that wins over fans and critics, but it’s how Beck opens up his soul for listener’s to peer into that truly supplants him as one of the best of our time. Beck does exactly that on Morning Phase. He masterfully grasps the concept of struggling through the day, and then beginning all over again as the opening instrumental “Cycle” would suggest. “Cycle” blends straight into “Morning” which continues the theme, “But can we start it all over again? This morning, I’ve lost all my defenses,” Beck croons to the tune of acoustic guitar and a heavy drum beat.
Beck reaches the most endearing part of the cycle in the album’s pinnacle, “Waves”. Detached from a somber string orchestration by Beck’s father, David Campbell, Beck contemplates surrendering to the ‘waves’ and being carried away, presumably into society. However, Beck’s repetition of the word “isolation” at the end of the song suggests that he has opted to continue going against the waves, likely to the warm affection of the hipster fan-base he built in the 90s. As a finale to Beck’s cycle, “Waking Light” progresses through the ways to meet the morning, going from laying down in the waking light, to resting your eyes in the waking light, and finally, to opening your eyes with waking light.
At this point, the cycle of Morning Phase is complete, and it is time to talk about what we have learned from Beck. To the casual listener, we have just heard Beck beautifully relate his personal struggles into a universal metaphor for taking on the day. But based on Beck’s wide use of different genres in his career, we know that he is a very experimental guy, which begs for the possibility that one day Beck really, really did not want to get out of bed in the morning, and decided to capture that feeling in song. Could losing all of his defenses in “Morning” simply mean that somebody pulled the blankets off him? And does choosing isolation over waves simply mean that Beck hit ‘snooze’ on his alarm a few times to sleep instead of getting in the shower? Cooler heads prevail at the end of the album as Beck remembers that he has stuff to do today, and decides to open his eyes to waking light. So there you have it. When asked to describe Beck’s sound, the best answer would be that he sounds like the great feeling you get when you hit the ‘snooze button’ and can sleep for nine more beautiful minutes.