Indie pioneer Beck Hansen has returned with his first offering in 6 years. The press release suggests that this is the “natural companion” to 2002’s Sea Change in it’s offering of gorgeous acoustic tales surrounding love, loss and above all, hope. Kicking off with a gorgeous 40 second instrumental ‘Cycle’, it feels like it’s the missing bridge between the last acoustic album and this.
‘Morning’ starts the album off gorgeously, Hansen’s vocals sounding soothing and summery amongst a whirlwind of acoustic melancholy. The hiatus has allowed Beck to take stock of himself, life and the universe, which eloquently comes across in his relaxed tone.
The album is peppered with summery odes full of hopefulness and aspirations. There will be plenty written about the problems he has endured since 2005, so we will not cover that here. But clearly the one thing that’s come through all of that, is the positivity radiating from the instruments chosen. The banjo, wrapped up inside acoustic harmonies, feels very “homely” and projects visions of long, summery nights under a blanket of stars in Nashville. ‘Heart Is A Drum’ and ‘Say Goodbye’ are peppered with silky soft vocals and warm melodies, while ‘Blue Moon’ showcases a softer tender side within his songwriting. “You tried to hide your tender eyes“ he croons to every listener, showing exactly why this album has been labelled as the Sea Change’companion. ‘Unforgiven’ has an underlying distorted piano riff with contrasting warm vocals, making it sound spacey and inspiring a feeling of weightlessness as you listen.
By the time ‘Wave’ kicks in, this is already shaping up to be one of Beck’s most accomplished, strongest records. The passion and sheer quality behind every song is remarkable. The fine tuning of each orchestral piece, every backing vocal or instrument is clearly thought through. ‘Blackbird Chain’ and ‘Turn Away’ sound like you can hear the brain still ticking over despite them being so perfectly crafted. The album closes on the gorgeous ‘Waking Light’, and immediately you feel compelled to take a deep breath after the wave of emotion that you feel wash over you.
Whether you admit to it or not, no matter whether you have it on in the background or listen intently, you will feel this record. There will be points that grab you by the neck or the heartstrings, whether the phenomenal orchestra soaked ‘Wave’ or the banjo-tingled ‘Say Goodbye’, something will make you listen more. It’s the emotion reaching out and making a connection.
Some other reviews have described this as “the last of a dying art”, “the last of the singer-songwriter albums”. What you will find is that people will begin to see the turn around. We are already seeing the rise in attention to guitar bands coming back, but singer-songwriters never have and never will disappear. No matter how good/bad our lives are, we will always be intrigued by the thoughts and expressions of others, and will make a connection to it in song. Beck has always been a pioneer in this, and this time, he is leading a quieter revolution.