Music reviews for Feb. 27, 2014

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Beck, “Morning Phase”

The last time Beck sounded like this, it was 2002. He was reeling from a breakup, and his listeners were reeling from 9/11.

“Sea Change” was the gorgeously distraught sound of struggling to get out of bed after trauma. His new album, “Morning Phase,” is the similarly lush, but far more determined, sound of being able to face the day again.

Beck enlisted the same band from “Sea Change” for “Morning Phase”—guitarist Smokey Hormel, keyboard player Roger Joseph Manning Jr., bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and drummer Joey Waronker—and they re-create a dream world of string sections, hushed guitars and woozy beauty.

“Waking light, it grew from the shadow,” he sings in the finale “Waking Light,” with an echoing effect on his voice so strong that it almost sounds angelic. “Night is gone, long way turning, you’ve waited long enough to know.”

The first single, “Blue Moon,” sounds confident, as Waronker builds a drum-driven groove, though Beck still seems a bit uneasy, begging, “Don’t leave me on my own,” while surrounding the request with what sounds like a choir of Brian Wilsons offering supportive “oohs” and “ahs.”

“Morning Phase” does offer more than “Sea Change.” After all, Beck hasn’t stood still in his songwriting or in his arranging and producing. There’s a bit of Radiohead’s influence in “Wave,” especially as Beck uses his falsetto. There’s a Bon Iver feel to the pretty “Turn Away.” Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in “Morning Phase” is how it captures the feeling of hope.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Twin Forks, “Twin Forks”

Chris Carrabba is a far more versatile musician than anyone ever expected when he became one of emo’s breakout stars. Though there’s a huge difference between the bands Further Seems Forever, Dashboard Confessional and Twin Forks, his well-crafted lyrics and emotional delivery do tie them together.

With Twin Forks, which includes Bellmore’s Suzie Zeldin on vocals and mandolin, Carrabba leans toward the folk of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, especially on the driving “Can’t Be Broken” and “Kiss Me Darling.” The best is “Scraping Up the Pieces,” where the two rave like the American Pogues.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

St. Vincent, “St. Vincent”

Annie Clark got her start as a guitarist in the large ensembles of the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens before launching her solo career as St. Vincent.

She’s an inventive, often noisy, guitar player, but on her fourth record, her guitar often takes a secondary role to heavy electronic grooves. It’s an album full of disruptions, lyrical and musical.

Even relatively quiet songs get upended: “Huey Newton” starts as a softly sung, beautiful keyboard ballad and then shifts abruptly to a distorted, heavy-metal guitar trudge punctuated with angry screams.

“I Prefer Your Love” is a grand, reach-for-the-heavens proclamation, but there’s friction when she completes the title phrase with “to Jesus.”

Clark’s last project, “Love This Giant,” was a collaboration with David Byrne. “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness” possess the  mix of groove and noise of Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light.” But mostly, “St. Vincent” is brash, bold and deliberately uneasy.

—Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Mike Gordon, “Overstep”

When Mike Gordon steps away from his day job playing bass for mega jam band Phish, he tends to get even more experimental and weird, which is saying a lot.

But on “Overstep,” his fourth solo album not counting two collaborations with Leo Kottke, Gordon creates a much more accessible and radio friendly record. That’s not to say it’s boring or predictable because it isn’t.

What it does have is a more solid rock base, perhaps thanks to the increased role of longtime collaborator and lead guitarist Scott Murawski and producer Paul Q. Kolderie, who previously worked with Radiohead.

What Gordon might have given up in control, he gains by creating a more unified and satisfying sound. Don’t worry, Gordon lovers. There are still plenty of his off-the-wall lyrics.

Take “Ether,” the first track, where he dreamily describes floating around and encountering a Cyclops and using rocket components to build a new girlfriend.

—Scott Bauer, Associated Press

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