Soundbites: No place like home for My Morning Jacket


Sometimes it just makes sense to go back home, where everything started. In My Morning Jackets case thats Louisville, a town with enough country and folk-rock fodder to keep them honest, but with enough eccentricity to give MMJ the alternative label theyve earned from their quirky experiments in sound over the years. 

Circuital, recorded at a gymnasium in Louisville, is a return to that balance. It was lost the misguided Evil Urges, My Morning Jackets fifth studio album, recorded in Manhattan. 

For these guys, its good to be home.

This 10-track disc is a short and sweet journey around blind corners. Thats a scary prospect for most groups, but My Morning Jacket makes it enticing, beginning with the title track on Circuital. It opens the album humbly with a plucking, bobbing guitar thats later accompanied by a crisp, strumming riff, a jaunty piano and James ethereal croons, before delineating into a fracas of a jam session. My Morning Jacket, at its core, is a live band and this seven-minute trek could easily turn into a 15-minute expedition on stage.

Circuital sets the stage for an album that is sometimes refreshingly nonlinear and at others structured, if a little twisted. The common thread: none of it is traditional. Each track is a malleable, orchestrated assemblage of sounds, rather than a stiff chip off the block of traditional rock.

Victory Dance, glows with those traits. It begins with a thunderous gong and a distorted, psychedelic riff from the rhythm guitar, followed by what sounds like lead singer Jim James attempt at a bugle call. Then James punches in his unmistakably ethereal voice: Should I close my eyes and prophesize, hoping maybe, someday it comes? / Should I wet the ground with own tears crying over whats been done? Thats when the sinister song really begins, as a deep-pounding bass line and kick-drum compound to ignite the track. 

My Morning Jackets most memorable track on the project is Holdin On to Black Metal, but that may not be a blessing. The most unforgettable track on Evil Urges was also its worst: Highly Suspicious overshadowed an otherwise marginally charming disc with its odd prog-funk sound. Black Metal is much more digestible, but just as strange. Its ominous, funky and incomparable to pretty much anything My Morning Jacket or anyone, really has ever done. With a blend of horns, heavy reverb and lyrics about catching waves on Lucifers beach, it wont be forgotten. 

My Morning Jackets success is a result of fearless exploration (How else do you explain James cover of Erykah Badus Tyrone?) and subsequent evolution. Circuital continues that trend with a return to their Louisville roots. For a band with chronic idiosyncrasies, its probably best they took a sojourn at home, where they cant be misunderstood know matter how hard they try.