Saturday, November 5, 2011

Circuital - My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket
ATO  0105

I finally got to see My Morning Jacket live this summer.  For years I've been reading about what an awesome live act they are and I have to agree.  It was amazing.  I don't know how they go out there and deliver such a high energy show night after night.  I envy their strength and stamina.  Almost every number ends up in a frenzied jam as if they had learned to play by listening to "Free Bird" over and over.  I was totally drained afterwards.  Not a lot of that energy has been transferred to their records though.  I enjoy the records a lot but it is hard to believe that they are made by the same band.  I guess that's why my favorite album of theirs is the live one, "Okonokos."  I had high hopes for this one though after hearing them run through much of it live.  The album gets off to a rousing start with "Victory Dance" which begins with the bang of a gong and a majestic fanfare leading into a compelling song colored with imagery from Native American culture and an almost biblical endorsement of the value of work.  Jim James (or Yim Yames as he seems to be calling himself lately) provides an earnest double-tracked vocal that makes the lyrics take on the gravity of a spiritual quest.  The song starts slow and gradually builds in power to its soaring climax just like the live act.  The song flows seemlessly into "Circuital" which also builds slowly and then rocks out.  It reminds me a bit of 1970s era The Who.  It explores the various meanings of circuit as they apply to life both in terms of inter-connectivity as well as circularity in the life cycle.  I think it is a major song destined to be one of the band's standouts and it gives James a chance to stretch out his amazing vocal cords.  "The Day is Coming" has a bit of a sunshine pop feel to it.  It begins with language sounding like it is about the day of reckoning but ultimately it is an uplifting "seize the day" type song.  The good vibes continue with the optimistic "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" which is a gentle, folky song embracing positive thinking and peace of mind.  "Outta My System" reminds me of "Sunflower" era Beach Boys.  It has a strong pop flavor with a catchy melody and a lot of instrumental richness.  It is a song about maturity that endorses sowing one's wild oats as a youth in order to avoid temptation when one is older.  The group kicks it up a few notches for the soulful and forceful "Holdin' On To Black Metal" which argues that it is okay for a rebellious teen to dig black metal music, but you ought to find something better to listen to as an adult with James mostly taking umbrage with the Satanic elements in black metal.  Personally I think one should stop listening to black metal simply because it sucks.  The very upbeat "First Light" is a spiritual song, not specifically religious although it could be interpreted that way.  Essentially James is celebrating something that has given his life direction and meaning.  It begins with a solitary guitar chord reminiscent of "A Hard Day's Night" and then the group rocks out with one of the most propulsive songs on the record.  "You Wanna Freak Out" sounds almost like a paean to hedonism, but I think it is actually endorsing being true to oneself and being uninhibited.  It is another upbeat sunshine pop-type song.  "Slow Slow Tune" is exactly that, a gentle lullaby for James' future child.  The album ends with another slow one, "Movin' Away" which is driven by a simple piano line and a gorgeous vocal.  The song shows James committing to settling down with his love although apparently with some ambivalence.  It is a perfect ending to an album that is thematically driven by a spiritual and personal quest for happiness and meaning.  It is really a wonderful record, endlessly listenable and rewarding.  It is also a model for vinyl packaging, a sturdy, elegant cardboard gatefold album with heavy weight paper sleeves covered with pictures and an insert that reproduces the handwritten lyrics which are a bit hard to read but testify to James' frenzied creativity.  The record is spread over two 180 gram slabs of vinyl running at 45 rpm.  I'm not so crazy about the speed since it requires frequent flipping of the record, but it sounds magnificent, an impeccable pressing.  This record may not live up to the power of their live act, but it is a credit to their immense talent and chemistry as a band and I'm not the least bit disappointed in it.  It is one of the best albums of the year.  Recommended to people who are looking for something more than sex and drugs in their rock and roll.

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