My Morning Jacket
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2011, Volume 18, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 28, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
A magical aura has surrounded My Morning Jacket almost from the moment of its inception. Most of this has emanated from the bandís legendary concerts, where its dynamic performances are forcefully delivered without restraint. In the studio, however, My Morning Jacket hasnít had nearly as much success.
Although they radiated an eerie sense of beauty, early efforts such as The Tennessee Fire and It Still Moves were drenched so heavily in reverb that they were off-putting to prospective fans. The mainstream-minded peppiness of Z seemed to indicate that My Morning Jacket had turned a corner, but its subsequent outing Evil Urges was so unfocused and flawed that it raised doubts about the collectiveís future. Of course, none of this mattered much to My Morning Jacketís ever-expanding legion of followers. The ensembleís riveting stage show magnified its strengths, thereby allowing the true believers to overlook the deficiencies in the recording techniques it has employed.
In many ways, My Morning Jacketís latest foray Circuital reverts to the stylistic philosophy that drove Z. Not only does the reverb that once clouded its melodies remain out of view, but also the Bonnaroo-friendly vibrations that permeated Evil Urges appear to have subsided. Overall, though, Circuital is a highly focused affair, and as a result, it neatly highlights how much the outfit has matured over the course of the past six years.
My Morning Jacket has always had a knack for bending time, smashing its classic-rock roots into its futuristic view of the present with cataclysmic force. The music on Circuital is no exception. Everything from The Whoís British Invasion-era pop and The Beach Boys choral harmonies to shimmering í80s-imbued soul and quaint Harry Nilsson-esque folk roams around the fringes of the affair. For the most part, though, My Morning Jacket is content simply with enveloping the psychedelic wonder of The Beatles within the modern-day atmospherics of Radiohead.
Lyrically, My Morning Jacket has taken a giant leap forward. Circuital is, in effect, a loosely knit concept album, one that ponders the spiritual aspects of existence as well as the importance of communal experiences. At times, it seems as if songwriter Jim James is suffering from a crisis that was born either from middle age or from the pervasive disconnection caused by the digitization of society. Yet, unlike many similarly focused sets, his musings never feel overtly personal. Instead, James seems more concerned with the world at large, and he views the passing of time as a repeating cycle of generational shifts through which authority is challenged and knowledge is gleaned.
Further bolstering the notion that the collection is meant to be heard in sequence rather than as a series of standalone parts, the songs on Circuital melt together seamlessly, carrying the listener on a journey that moves from the history of man (Victory Dance) to the birth of a new generation (Moviní Away). Each track blurs into the next, and the music seems to move down winding passages that blossom into Technicolor rooms, like the horn-splattered funk of Holdiní On to Black Metal or the intoxicated í50s rock of Slow, Slow Tune. Circuital is filled with an array of subtleties, too, such as the brief nod to George Harrisonís Think for Yourself that cleverly initiates Outta My Systemís reflection on youthful indiscretions.
Once again, some fans undoubtedly will complain that My Morning Jacket has failed to capture the raw power of its concert performances. It is readily apparent, however, that this is not very high on the groupís list of goals. Instead, My Morning Jacket seems intent on refining and perfecting an equally potent identity for itself in the studio. In fact, a closer examination of Circuital reveals that its quest might nearly be complete.
Of Further Interest...
Circuital is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box