Synthesizing their signature sound of psychedelic southern rock, storytelling folk and electro-funk into one giant musical behemoth, Louisville native rockers turned breakout stars My Morning Jacket are back and raring to regain their title as the last and greatest jam band on Earth.
‘Circuital’ is the outfit’s six full-length album and indeed the first of the lot to be recorded inside the confines of Louisville proper. In addition to a literal return home, many news outlets have taken this new album as a return to form for the band after the funky falsetto-laden departure that was 2008’s ‘Evil Urges’, but it’s important to remember that the title ‘Circuital’ implies an electrical charge just as much as it does a full circle, and that it’s this current that pulses throughout as a synthesis of everything that band has been as of yet, with plenty of room leftover for their trademark experimentation.
Anyone who has seen My Morning Jacket live in concert, perhaps even their now legendary nearly four-hour stand at Bonnaroo 2008, can’t help but be intimately familiar with the universal shiver up the spine brought about by lead singer Jim James’ howling reverbed vocals, but its James’ personal growth as a folksinging super star that really shines in ‘Circuital’. In his spare time from MMJ, James has come to fully embrace his role as one of the last disciples of folk, (even donning the moniker of his folk-soul alter ego ‘Yim Yames’), and its the grounded power in his development as a songwriter that makes ‘Circuital’ so intoxicatingly relatable, specifically amongst two of the album’s more touching ballads, ‘Wonderful (The Way I Feel)’ and ‘Slow Slow Tune’. James’ most recent non-MMJ folk exploit was an EP of echo-splashed George Harrison covers and it’s easy to see him channeling the Beatle in no small way throughout ‘Circuital’.
That’s not to say by any means that ‘Circuital’ is no more than nostalgia and pretty words, as My Morning Jacket leaves no question as to whether or not they’ve still got the rock. ‘Outta My System’, a playful song about sowing one’s wild oats, harkens back to 2003’s ‘It Still Moves’ album, with it’s combination of bendy steel guitar flares and pulsing drum lines, while ‘The Day is Coming’ warns of a reckoning for the materialistic ways of modern man and drips of the soulful surfy punch that was 2005’s ‘Z’. Most interesting and most catchy by far perhaps, is the track ‘Holdin’ On to Black Metal’, which along with ‘First Light’, exists as a satisfying resolution to the perceived conflict between MMJ ‘Evil Urges’ release and the the rest of their discography, by combing James’ falsetto, a very danceable synthesized bass line and the same old quirky rock we’ve come to know and love.
‘Circuital’ is not perfect. Most strikingly absent is any single song that takes full advantage of the awe-inspriring range of Jim James’ voice. Regardless, throughout its history, My Morning Jacket has accomplished the unenviable task of bringing southern rock into the 21st century, and lest we not forget, they are undoubtedly our favorite sons. In the end, MMJ’s studio recordings have always been outstripped by their live performances by at least a hundred fold, and I just can’t wait to hear this new batch of tunes belted out across warm summer air.