When Beck walked a talking blues over a sample of Johnny Jenkins’s cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” for “Loser,” his giant 1994 hit, there was an aesthetic purpose lurking underneath its vibe of off-the-cuff spontaneity that, 25 years later, continues to infuse his work with vitality. While “Loser” itself is marked by the wild west feel of early 90s indie rock, with all its many faces, Beck’s subsequent work shapes that freedom into something beyond any particular rock and roll era — his catalog reflects possible trajectories across time rather than a simple series of destinations.
Morning Phase, released in 2014, is Beck’s ninth, an “acoustic” record that ran away with a clutch of awards and praise from critics. All deserved. He makes a pallet on the floor in support of his considerable vocal power and melodic finesse (things he’s not always interested in showing off), rich strings and rolling rhythms stacked beneath a lyrical prowess speaking of a talent well-nurtured: if he’s not always successful in his endeavors, Beck is an active creator not inclined to coast.
In its length, in its lyrics, “Wave” appears a slight, slip of a thing. But in its undertow it is a song of deep release, a beautiful orchestration of removal, isolation, perspective; and so reminds me of King Crimson’s Starless and John Wetton’s treating the lyric as if he’s singing an emotionally interior “Jerusalem” — the land falls away, and you are at sea.
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