When Beck Hansen went on the road last year, including shows at the Newport Folk Festival and the Bank of America Pavilion, he was in between albums, and the downtime seemed to liberate him. It was a magical tour, free of expectations for both the performer and his audience. Beck was able to survey his career, and it was astonishing to remember just how many rabbit holes he’s dropped down over the years.
“Morning Phase,” his latest album and first since 2008’s “Modern Guilt,” is another detour in a discography full of them. It finds the chameleonic singer and songwriter at his most spectral, as warm and welcome as the sun of his native California.
Early buzz was that it picked up where 2002’s pastoral “Sea Change” left off, which is not completely accurate. Sure, “Morning Phase” shimmers and sways the way that album often did, but here Beck is operating nearly in the stratosphere. The songs sprawl in sweeping orchestrations by David Campbell, Beck’s father, buoyed by supple playing from his longtime band, notably Smokey Hormel on guitar.
Dusky acoustic flourishes flicker in “Country Down” and “Say Goodbye” (with banjo adding some subtle pluck), and “Morning” beautifully captures what makes this album so rich: that delicate divide between grandiose and intimate.
Throughout the album the vocal melodies are so blown out that they occasionally drift close to new age territory. Listening to “Heart Is a Drum” and “Turn Away,” you’ll be forgiven for thinking they’re Enya outtakes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just a surprising move for Beck. Then again, that’s exactly what we want from him. (Out Tuesday)