Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Moment with My Morning Jacket

Above: Bouncing with MMJ...find me as if I was Waldo

I heard the new My Morning Jacket album from start to finish yesterday, before it was turned off, packed up and returned to the vault where it will remain until each-and-every writer/critic/blogger/scribe with an @ symbol attached to their name dissects it from start to finish, claiming every kernel of noise as their own (read: no, I don't have a copy handy, so I can't burn it for you, even if it would help you score with your girlfriend, boyfriend and/or that guy who used to sell you goo balls in the lot).

I honestly can't remember the last time I was so excited to hear a new album and definitely can’t remember the last time I tried to review a new disc in just one sitting. Yet, there is something refreshing about hearing a CD as a complete work and then letting it sit for a while, before its tracks begin to take on all sorts of other extraneous meanings.

I also find it somewhat fitting that at a time when every singer/songwriter sporting more than a 5 o’clock shadow has seemingly tailored their style to replicate the classic Jim James sound, My Morning Jacket has moved in the opposite direction, creating a dense, funky, psychedelic album that would fit more comfortably next to Flaming Lips or Prince than either At Dawn or It Still Moves. Like 2005’s Z, Evil Urges finds the Kentucky-bred quintet masking its raw muscle with glitchy studio wizardry rather than acoustic guitars and reverb drenched vocals; in fact, James has tweaked his voice to such an extent that he now employs two microphones onstage. But, from start to finish, those classic MMJ touches are still there, buried beneath a thick layer of conscious fuzz, where one gets the sense James always felt they belonged. “For thoughtless folks like me and J, who'd pay, but can't afford, the finer things in life,” he once mused, “So we heist them all...”

In many ways, Evil Urges is actually two very different albums, conceptually spit down the middle by, appropriately enough, the song “Two Haves.” For lack of a better term, the disc’s A-Side is the more experimental half, driven by studio gimmicks and longtime drummer Patrick Hallahan’s big, funky beats. The album’s B-Side is more traditional MMJ, filled with modern classic-rock moments and a few more gentle interludes. And while the album’s A-Side was clearly sequenced upfront for a reason, it’s the record’s B-Side that echoes through my head, especially the soft, haunting “Librarian,” a vintage MMJ moment that could fit on Harvest were it not for a somewhat obtuse reference to “the interweb.”

But as much as I want to call Evil Urges the post-jam-era’s answer to Pet Sounds or Revolver, initially under appreciated experimental concepts that blossomed into cornerstones of the classic-rock canon, more likely it will either be the album that propels MMJ out of their comfortable critic’s corner or alienates their original fans…or both. For even though Evil Urges is both a product of the studio and the group’s least accessible work since signing with ATO, it’s also tailored for the big, arena stages My Morning Jacket are finally ready to frequent, especially the album's 7-minute climax, "Touch Me I'm Gonna Scream (Part 2)."

I guess that’s all until I give Evil Urges a proper listen and, I’m sure, a proper review. Until then I’ll leave you all with my favorite line from my first sitting. Go ahead and add it to your yearbook page before all your friends:

“Do you live your life on the road, losing out on love, asking for nothing, running for something that isn't there…”

Indeed Jim, I sure do…


Lisa Skye said...

thank you.
I wish I was a fly on the wall when you had your listen.
I love this band so much for the past 4 years....
waiting for the release....waiting...

Dan said...

Good review, if you could send me and email I'd really like to talk to you.