Beck was as surprised as anyone by the success of 2014’s Morning Phase, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year and became his best-selling album in a decade. “I had no expectations,” he says, describing a lot of his albums as “ships in the night.” Morning Phase was intended to be a quick project – “just so we would have something out, because we were going on tour” – as he took a break from a more ambitious album he had been struggling with.
More than three years later, he has finally finished that album. Due in October, the still-untitled record is a left turn from its predecessor, taking the harmony-heavy beauty of Morning Phase and charging it with big hooks, hip-hop loops and the poppy energy of his classic Nineties work.
The sound, Beck says, was inspired by five years of heavy touring. He played big summer festivals to young audiences, and he soaked up the energy of acts like the Strokes, with whom he toured last year. “It’s a summer night, people have their hands up,” he says. “It’s a communal, celebratory thing. I wanted to take that into the studio, a kind of energy or joy. The thing that wakes you up a little bit.”
Beck recruited Greg Kurstin, a multi-instrumentalist in Beck’s Sea Change touring band who later went on to produce acts like Sia and Adele (and co-wrote “Hello”). Like the Dust Brothers on records such as Odelay, Kurstin produced and wrote with Beck, resulting in upbeat material like “Seventh Heaven,” a chiming anthem about falling in love, and “No Distractions,” a dance-y, Talking Heads-like stomp. The single “Dreams” went through more than a dozen incarnations before its final version, a stuttering groove and a garagelike riff inspired by Sixties psych architects the Creation. “There’s a substratum to a lot of the songs – songs within other songs, choruses that became bridges,” Beck says. “It’s not far from how I made my first couple of records.”
For Beck, a noted studio tinkerer, it sometimes felt like the album might sink under its own ambitions. Sessions were sandwiched between tours, making it difficult to find a consistent sound. Beck estimates he recorded three albums before finishing this one. “After the Grammys, we got rid of half of it and started again,” he says. “It took a while for it to find an identity.”
The result captures Beck’s contented new chapter; he’s enjoying fatherhood and his renewed interest in touring. “It’s kind of life-sparking,” says Beck, 45, of the shows. “I want to have some new things to say. I’m still filling out the picture. We do ‘Where It’s At,’ and you’re like, ‘OK, we needed that.’ Then you do another one. It’s all adding up to a picture.”