Beck’s modest beauty

Releasing a new album after six years of silence can be a daunting task, usually eliciting indifference from casual fans and assurances from die-hards that the new material won’t be as good as the old. “Morning Phase,” the first we’ve heard from Beck since 2008’s “Modern Guilt,” will easily quell these sentiments and prove it was well worth the wait. According to a press release, this album is a companion piece to 2002’s “Sea Change,” harkening back “to the stunning harmonies, songcraft and staggering emotional impact of that record, while surging forward with infectious optimism.”

While there is some incredible songcraft here, “Morning Phase” isn’t an album that “surges forward” with much of anything. Favoring slower tempos and a quiet, spacious aesthetic, this isn’t an album that goes out of its way to get the listener’s attention. It’s one that rewards a listener who is willing to spend some time with it. These songs will grow on you over time, and by the third or fourth listen you’ll still be hearing nuances and parts of songs you swore weren’t there before.

The most striking thing about this album is its absolutely gorgeous sound production. From the lush strings on the introductory track “Cycle” all the way the electric guitar effects at the end of “Waking Light,” you will find yourself constantly overwhelmed with just how beautiful this record sounds. The acoustic guitars, usually the foundation of these tracks, are recorded so well it’s hard not to be completely distracted by all the subtleties in their tone.

The opening chords in “Morning” are so crisp and clear that the entrance of Beck’s vocal is a startling realization that other things are happening around the guitar. The layering happening on this track is demonstrative of what you will hear throughout the record. The guitar acts as a foundation for multiple keyboard tracks, bells, percussion, bass and electric guitar all filtered through a mess of reverb and echo effects. This sounds overwhelming, but the parts these instruments are playing are small and subtle, building upon each other to create one lush, gorgeous sound.

“Blue Moon,” the album’s single, shows off Beck’s talent for arranging and orchestrating. The vocal part remains prominent throughout the entire track, while small instrumental parts are added, subtracted and exchanged behind the voice to add even more interest. There is a nice texture change in the middle of the track with a syncopated acoustic guitar break, and the whole song builds into a satisfying electric guitar and drum groove reminiscent of Beck’s native Los Angeles. Again, the ear never becomes distracted through this, showing that Beck knows how to guide his listener through a song.

“Morning Phase” starts to lose steam in its second half, with songs “Blackbird Chain” and “Country Down” lasting just a little too long without variation. This is a complaint that could be raised with quite a few tracks on the album, as they often stick to one rhythmic feel for their entirety. However, for those willing to spend the time with this reserved album, there is plenty of beauty and quality to be found.

3 1/2 stars out of 5.