Having already cast off his accidental status as a '90s slacker icon by releasing the sample-heavy "Odelay," the Brazilian-tinged "Mutations" and the cartoonish sex-funk of "Midnite Vultures" in quick succession, Beck turned inward to produce 2002's "Sea Change." That sad, gorgeous album has stood as a high mark in a career that has produced some serious contenders.
Twelve years later, we arrive at "Morning Phase," his 12th album, and one that has its seeds in "Sea Change," but bears markedly different fruit. It shares the tonal structure of acoustic balladeer Beck, it dissects dark moments and even has similar album art of the artist, semi-obliterated by kaleidoscopic color.
But Beck has seemingly gained the perspective of time, not only the maturity of added years, but what time really is -- the connection of life's moments into a cohesive whole. Time and its acceptance are the throughline of "Morning Phase," from the elegant vocals in "Morning" to the loping menace of "Unforgiven," to standout "Wave," an almost purely classical poem that ends with Beck repeatedly intoning the word "isolation." It sounds forbiddingly heavy, but Beck balances the scales when needed and handles life's thorniest challenges -- surrendering, saying goodbye, starting over -- with a wistful ease that makes them almost abstract, and renders comparison to his earlier work obsolete. "Morning Phase" couldn't have arrived any sooner, and we are all the better for its drawn-out dawn.