UPDATE (2/17): Beck's Morning Phase is now streaming eight days ahead of its release! Listen to the album in full at NPR's First Listen now. Get all the must-know facts about the singer's first full-length in nearly six years below.
Though Beck last released an original album in 2008, he never stopped recording and writing. Aside from various one-off singles and a song collection released entirely as sheet music, Beck reportedly has albums of unreleased material just sitting around. But at the beginning of 2012 he got more serious about putting together a record, laying down the skeleton of Morning Phase in just three days in Los Angeles. Then he spent the rest of 2012 tinkering with and fleshing out the songs until he had something close to a full album. But Morning Phase was born before then: a number of the tracks date back to 2010, when he spent time recording for Jack White’s Third Man label in Nashville.
Beck has dubbed Morning Phase “California music," comparing the record to bedrock artists like the Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Gram Parsons and Neil Young. In the tradition of California, you can feel a soft glow radiating off its early singles. He also has called the record a “companion piece of sorts” to his chilled-out 2002 album Sea Change.
To nail that idea home, Beck recruited much of the band that helped him record Sea Change, including bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson, guitarist Smokey Hormel, keyboardist Roger Joseph and drummer Joey Waronker. Beck fans might recognize that group as his backing band on tour.
Lead single “Blue Moon” rumbles, but quietly, with pounding bass drums grounding the softly-strummed acoustic guitars. It sounds assured, but Beck sings of insecurity: "Oh, don’t leave me on my own / Left me standing all alone.”
The newly released “Waking Light” is Beck emerging from the other side. “When the morning comes to meet you / Rest your eyes in waking light,” he sings over radiant piano chords.
Beck said Morning Phase would have come earlier, but he's spent the last few years recovering from spinal damage. “I had severe damage to my spine, but now it’s improving so I’m back in the music," the singer said. "It was a long, long recovery. Lately I concentrated on playing guitar. Do not think I can move again as before, although I can give a lot onstage."
Time Out London gives the album four stars, describing it as "warm, expansive, richly textured and thick with shimmering vocal reverb," all of which sound like very nice things. But it's Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker who has given the strongest praise thus far, calling Morning Phase a "triumph." "After listening to Morning Phase almost 50 times," Frere-Jones says, "I can't find a single thing wrong with it."
3. Heart is a Drum
4. Say Goodbye
5. Blue Moon
8. Don't Let it Go
9. Blackbird Chain
11. Turn Away
12. Country Down
13. Waking Light