We've been witness to many different Becks over the years. There's the slack-rock ''Loser'' baby we came to know in the '90s, the sweaty L.A.-hipster funk troubadour, the record-bin sponge whose sound collages almost come in quote marks, even the experimentalist who released a book of sheet music last year. So it's understandable to wonder which Beck we're signing up for on Morning Phase, his 12th studio album.
The short answer is that it falls most in line with 2002's Sea Change, evoking a similarly dappled California folk-rock sound. But there's a new kind of hypnosis in the swooning vocals and traveling-poet lyricism here. And the loose lunar theme seems appropriate the album swells with a gorgeous, twilit wonder. From the beguiling shimmer of early tracks ''Morning'' and ''Blue Moon'' to the warm waves crashing over the closer ''Waking Light,'' Phase exerts an almost cosmic gravitational pull; it practically comes with the ''repeat all'' button already set.
It's also one of the singer's loneliest works, but he manages to translate his melancholy into masterful starry-night beauty: ''Mountains are falling/They don't have nowhere to go/The ocean's a diamond/That only shines when you're alone.'' This isn't just good Beck, it's best Beck. A-