Let's dispense with the obvious, tedious, and incorrect at the outset: Morning Phase, Beck's first album of recorded music in six years, is not a sequel to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change. I get it: they're similar in sound, tone, and sonic texture. Call them aural companions if you must but Morning Phase is not a continuation of the Sea Change narrative.
The instrumental prelude "Cycle" opens the album and establishes tone and mood for what is to come. It segues into the gorgeous "Morning," which recalls George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" through the sonic palette of his own "The Golden Age." He employs this device again with "Phase" leading into "Turn Away," which also proves to be an album highlight with its Byrds-like harmonies (overdubbed Beck vocals), chugging acoustic picking, and string accents.
"Blue Moon," the first single from the record, relies less on orchestration and instead relies on lovely yet simple mandolin picking. It's not a radio-friendly single but the melody and overdubbed harmonies are beautiful.
"Wave" is an ethereal lament, a spiral of swirling sound with no rhythm or percussion to anchor it in anyway. Beck's overdubbed, echo-laden vocals are haunted by a string arrangement both lush and foreboding.
Beck will always best be known as the wisecracking hipster who combines an inimitable use of language with digital racket and electronic beats but his troubadour-set-to-strings persona yields some of his best and most enduring work some of which can be heard on Morning Phase even if Sea Change is the more impactful of the two. No matter, this is a fantastic album. We must hope he doesn't take six years before he records another album and doesn't wait 12 years to return to this mode.