Stereogum’s Panegyric for Beck’s New Album “Morning Phase” Hauls Us in a Rickshaw to a Dewy Hovel of Melancholia

This bloated review of the new Beck album by Tom Breihan makes me hate the album, the reviewer, Stereogum, music criticism in general, and almost everyone on earth. Let’s start at the end:

“But as an exercise of pure craft and musical cohesion, Morning Phase is a deeply impressive album, a road-trip record for the ages. An album like this is a good reason to invest in better speakers. If you’ve got a decent system in your house, it’s an ideal soundtrack to mimosa consumption, or to watching the hills roll by like centuries.”

Thus concludes 999 words of turgid muck about Beck’s new album. To be fair, Breihan didn’t invent the “hills roll by like centuries” line. It’s a Beck lyric that he’d just made fun of. Yet he closes with the line to let us know that he really, really gets Beck, and the rest of us listening on our inferior home radio-cassette combos played through old Yuban coffee cans do not.

And given that my speakers aren’t so good, maybe my read-‘um-up skills are faulty too. But I’m pretty sure Breihan really likes Beck’s new album, based on initial interpretations of the following statements:

  • “Morning Phase works more like a thought experiment: How pretty can he make this thing?”
  • “It’s an album about sound-design and arrangement, about sparing no expense to musically evoke a certain happily-bored zone-out state of mind.”
  • And that lack of urgency — its patience, its willingness to slowly build its beautiful sonic sun-temples — is the album’s greatest strength.”

Still, these observations leave us with some questions. Does Beck perform “music songs” on this album? If so, are they good? Should we listen to them on our music devices? Can we drink a single beer and still enjoy them? Are there certain models of cars that we are not allowed to hear the music in?

And then there’s this:

“Stylistically, it’s like Beck imagined the exact midpoint between the depressive inward orchestral folk of Bryter Later-era Nick Drake and the stoned but ambitious studio-pro trickery of peak-era Harry Nilsson. There’s a lot of room for play between those two poles, and Beck makes plenty of use of it.”

Hmm, my stereo cans are confused. Did Beck master the exact midpoint between these two pretentiously contrived musical markers? Or did he frolic in the vast space between these two arbitrarily related artistic mileposts? There are stoned but ambitious people who will never make sense of it all.

Thankfully, though, it reminded me of this hilarious skewering of Pitchfork’s feverish, indulgent music reviews by a wounded David Cross several years ago. Published on Pitchfork, no less. It is a bitter, brilliant satirical gem. 

And our friend Davin shared this terrific Portlandia clip that winds us all down to the logical end of Pitchfork, Stereogum and their mutations:

One thought on “Stereogum’s Panegyric for Beck’s New Album “Morning Phase” Hauls Us in a Rickshaw to a Dewy Hovel of Melancholia

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