Friday, 5 December 2014

Beck-Morning Phase

Beck's twelfth studio album is a stunning portrait of human emotion wrapped in the enveloping layers of the pacific ocean, for this is a truly great West Coast album. It evokes the early 70's work of The Beach Boys with their lilting melodies, the vocal interplays of Simon and Garfunkel and the music ambitiousness of Joni Mitchell at her peak. This is an early morning album, it's the promise of a brighter day as the sun rises the promise of something new is within reach. It has a deceptive richness, it's laid bare in parts and then layered vocals float over the song or a string line wafts into the space and covers the song like a beautiful mist. The instrumental opening Cycle sounds like the end of a storm as the waves cease their endless crashing the sun breaks through the dark sky and then that acoustic guitar intro offers a respite. Morning has an easy laid back feel reminiscent of The Band with that loping carved in half beat,

Woke up this morning, from a long night in the storm
Looked up this morning, saw the roses full of thorns
Mountains are falling, they have nowhere to go
The ocean's a diamond, that only shines when you're alone
Can we start all over again

There is that promise, can we start over but there is still a nagging sense of doubt a persistent melancholia that juxtaposes so well with the shining optimism that this album is bathed in. Heart is a Drum has an acoustic foundation with synths cascading in and out and then that chorus hits and it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel out of Scarborough Fair. Our lives often beat in unison this song reflects on slowing it all down showing us how to play it slow. Say Goodbye is more dark, a deranged banjo picks at the carcass of the chorus,

Bones crack, curtains drawn
On my back and she is gone
Somewhere else I do not know
Time will tell and I will go
These are the words we use to say goodbye

Blue Moon is just brilliant a meditation on being alone caught in a war, battle scarred but still wanting some warmth, this has a more literary take each word creating a desolate landscape, this is songwriting at its deepest and best.

I'm so tired of being alone
These penitent walls are all I've known
Song bird calling across the water
Inside my silent asylum 
Ooh Blue Moon
Don't leave me on my own

Unforgiven is like an horizon stretched out before you, all you hear is the distorted notes of a piano that fill the vacuum, however rather than feeling the welcoming sun you are disappearing from the sun into the bosom of the dark. Wave is the most intense song on the album, the strings create a scene of waves crashing and breaking creating a distortion, an unsettling disturbance, there is a defiant note,

If I surrender
And I don't fight this wave
I won't go under
I'll only be carried away
I won't go under
I'll only be carried away

Blackbird Chain sounds like it would suit the first CSN album, some strong guitar work and some tight vocal harmonies and some great melodic shifts, in the lead up to the chorus it switches to an almost country styled workout before morphing into it's harmonic origins. Country down has a similar intro and another distinctive Band feel, it's an ode to open space, to the wheels crushing sand and dirt beneath you as you head a mile outside of town.

The musicianship on this album is impeccable, some notable musicians include Joey Waronker son of the legendary producer and record label executive Lenny Waronker who made Warner Brothers such a great record label in the 70's. The legendary bassist Stanley Clarke also appears on two tracks, Clarke is a true pioneer having been such an influential part of the jazz fusion band Return to Forever.

Beck has produced an opus in this album, whilst turbulent in parts it's also something of an a acceptance and a willingness to embrace what is in the horizon, to be optimistic as the sun rises over the deep Pacific Blue.

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