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It would be a fair assumption to make to say that Beck is not fond on settling on one musical identity for very long. From his folk beginnings, he has experimented with nearly every imaginable genre to fall under the broad term ‘pop music’, with often thrilling results.

In recent years however, his musical movements have become increasingly bizarre, with Beck even releasing an entire album’s worth of material in sheet music form in 2012. Returning with his first conventional album release in over six years, Morning Phase, his 12th record, has been described as being  the spiritual follow-up to 2002’s critically acclaimed album Sea Change. For such a forward thinking musician, looking back to his past for inspiration could prove to be Beck’s boldest move yet.

Thankfully, Morning Phase doesn’t attempt to merely copy Sea Change’s acoustic melancholy; while it’s frequently lauded as one of his strongest albums, Sea Change is anchored by his personal issues of the time. To try and recapture the mood of it would be a foolish thing for Beck to try and do. Instead, Morning Phase is an infinitely sunnier album that swaps Sea Change’s brooding with an uplifting sense of optimism.

After the brief string instrumental that begins the album, arranged by Beck’s father, David Campbell, “Morning” is a dreamlike acoustic number that nearly drifts away into the breeze with its sparse keyboards and vocals. “Heart Is A Drum” is inspired by the laid back Americana that came out of his hometown of California in the 1970’s, but the alien-sounding reversed noises that flow in and out of the song make it feel strange enough to sit happily with most of Beck’s back catalogue.

Though you get the feeling that Morning Phase is designed to be listened to as a complete body of work, rather than to be broken down and dissected, Beck’s talent for writing near-perfect singles shows no signs of diminishing with “Blue Moon”. As well as showcasing the strength of his supremely talented backing band, his powerful vocals add a sense of drama to the song. By the time the track fades from its layered instrumentation to just Beck’s voice and guitar, it becomes simply spine tingling.

The record’s flirtation with lush string sections comes to fruition with “Wave”, the album’s darkest moment and perhaps the furthest Beck has strayed from conventional pop music in his entire career. An orchestral piece filled with dread and tension, Beck’s repeated cries of “Isolation” make for a harrowing moment of bleakness within the sunny optimism that filled the rest of Morning Phase.

In this day and age, where acts are dropped just as quickly as they are signed, the feat of an artist making it to their 12th album is something to applaud in itself. What Beck achieves with Morning Phase is something better than that; it takes elements from his past and twists them in engaging and unique ways. One of the best records of his ever-changing career.

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