As you might be able to tell by now, I really like lists and I enjoy the number 5. So here’s to a bit of both. Lately I’ve been going through my Itunes library and come across some old favorites; the one’s I’ve been meaning to get into more but haven’t had the time or energy to. But here I am to revive that spirit and to enlighten you all about some albums you may not have heard of, but will be glad that you did.
“Can we start it all over again this morning?” Beck asks early on in the opening track of Morning Phase, his first album since 2008′s Modern Guilt. After a gorgeous 40 second instrumental opening, strings give way into the plaintive guitar strums of “Morning”, and it truly does feel like a something entirely new, a rebirth — which is odd, because Beck has specifically said this album is a spiritual successor to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change.
And sure, the beginning of “Morning” has an uncanny resemblance to the beginning of Sea Change opener “The Golden Age.” And sure, all of Morning Phase is ostensibly similar to its much-vaunted predecessor. It does feature the same musicians and the same California-folk influence. And yeah, even the cover art (Exhibits 1 and 2) looks strikingly similar, Beck’s steady gaze staring out behind smears of orange and blue.
But hear me out: the truth is that it’s only similar in the sense that all music by an artist sounds similar to previous music produced by that artist. No left turn is truly a total departure: even the cold, Kraftwerk heartbeat of Kid A‘s “Idioteque” had its roots in the laserbeam percussion loop of OK Computer’s “Airbag”.
The point of all this is to get you to look at Morning Phase in the ways it differs, rather than its similarities, because these differences are what make Morning Phase the best Beck album since 1998′s Mutations.
Seemingly on the verge of a real popular breakout for years after collaborations with David Byrne, Bon Iver, and Kid Cudi, it’s telling that Annie Clark decided to follow up her most successful (and best) album yet with a self-titled affair. That it’s a fourth album is important as well: if third albums are about solidifying an artistic voice, a thing Strange Mercy did astoundingly well, fourth albums are about proving that you’re more. Some bands choose to build upon their sound like The National did with Boxer or Phoenix did with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, some choose to buck it entirely like Radiohead’s Kid A, or some bands depressingly regress like Metallica’s Black Album. No matter the quality, these albums frequently become a focal point in the discography: a tone setter for the rest of a career. Thankfully, St. Vincent offers a confident distillation of just what makes Clark’s project so fascinating without shedding her experimental roots.
If there’s one up-and-coming artist you should check out right this second, it’s Connor Zwetsch. At the youthful age of 21, Connor has already managed to harness both the talent and the self-actualization required to help her rise into a promising career. So rare is it that a musician successfully propagates such candor and humility that Connor’s work is invitingly reassuring.