Beck's first album since 2008 does not beg for your attention. In fact, Morning Phase may seem a bit listless at first, but give it time to take effect, and what emerges is a understated yet uncompromising work of serious beauty. Returning to the reflective mode of his haunting 2002 opus Sea Change, Mr. Hansen delivers a stirring set of acoustic folk- and country-tinged tunes (with the occasional string section) about heartbreak and alienation but tempered by glimmers of hope. The moonlit, slow-burning "Wave" underscores his gift for using that deadpan, almost impassive voice to hint at oceans of emotion.
Over an unpredictable career spanning more than two decades, this mercurial talent has been a hip-hop deconstructor, an indie-rock trickster, and a funk dilettante. Here, he's a brilliant, irony-free balladeer, liberated from distracting gimmicks and guises. Listen: