[The Chasing the Thrill posts chronicle my adventures in trying to capture that ephemeral moment when song and audio fidelity come together into a sound that makes me forget everything else. Mostly it will be my notes on the vinyl that I listen to, but may include some non-vinyl music moments as well. If you’re interested in the set up I use to listen on, here it is.]
It took me a while to put the pieces together on why I love this record so much. It’s the proverbial “sleeper”; a ripple on a pond portending something much deeper and darker below the surface.
Even the name – with its thinly veiled double meaning (Morning Phase::”mourning phase”) – beckons you to squint a little and look more closely.
When you do…when you put the time in, the record conforms to my “rule” in defining art: it rewards the greater scrutiny, without demanding it.
The closer inspection reveals that, indeed, there is mourning here. It’s not necessary to find an illustrative lyric – they all deal with loss and isolation.
The instrumentation, performances, and production all augment the lyrical tone without veering into threnody territory that it would have in lesser hands.
And this combination – mournful lyrics combined with elegiac music/production – is one I know well. This is REM’s domain, and, specifically, Automatic for the People terroir. Like Morning Phase, Automatic is about loss and isolation, and like Morning Phase, Automatic clothes these sentiments in instrumentation and production — both records lean heavily on acoustic instruments and string arrangements — that seems to simultaneously embellish and lighten the weight of the words.
The 180 gram pressing of Morning Phase does soften the edges a bit; allowing for an overall lower frequency wash throughout that is entirely consistent with the feel of the lyrics and the music.
By far and away, Morning Phase is my favorite non-jazz record of 2014, and certainly is in good company with its ancestral forbearer, Automatic for the People.
[Not that anyone would notice or care, but in prior “Chasing the Thrill” pieces, I put in numerical ratings. I’m not doing that anymore. If I’m taking the time write about them, it means I think they belong in anyone’s vinyl collection; they’re all great.]