Album Review: My Morning Jacket - Circuital

Genre: Southern/Alternative Rock
Origin: Louisville, Kentucky

You've got yourself two album releases on this day, May 31st, that come from two big names in alt-rock: Death Cab for Cutie and My Morning Jacket. No, this write-up is not meant to compare the two, but it's worthy to note that they both inspire some of kind of musical transition. While one appears to be switching things up a bit by opting for a more electronic and upbeat tone, the other is channeling and reconfiguring their previous (and better) efforts with more variation. It sort of sounds like they're both headed in different directions, but that also appears to be their main similarity. Deciding which is the better album and which band better understates or embraces the change? That's entirely up to you.

But here we are with Circuital, the latest from My Morning Jacket, and they've done quite well with themselves. This is their sixth LP in twelve years, and overtime it has become quite obvious that they are ones to offer a variety of sounds and instrumentation with each forthcoming record. Even if those efforts were a little off-base on their most recent outing (2008's Evil Urges), My Morning Jacket have never once acted as if they've doubted their sound. And why would they? Their Southern influence in the alt-rock world has only made for more interesting textures in the realm, and Circuital doesn't stop in bringing that to us.

Then again, that also doesn't stop Circuital from feeling like a little more of the same. The whole "return to roots" approach that fans are clamoring to is a rather useless sentiment or intended pun because this is a band that tries out something new all the time. To expect anything less would be unorthodox, but to expect anything more would almost be overkill. In this regard, Circuital is another notch in MMJ's belt, providing some nice tunes but nothing out of the ordinary. It may try to be channeling Z moreso than Evil Urges, but the ballpark still has the same turf.

Band leader Jim James also seems to be having a little more "fun" this go-around. His songwriting talks about drugs and prison on "Outta My System" that are so on-the-nose it's somewhat laughable. It works because the sound is lively and reverberated, and that's mostly where Circuital finds the mold. "The Day is Coming," even if a little more "serious," plays off rather splendidly because his words blend within the confines of the music they provide. The first half, for the most part, is just generally pleasing.

"Holdin On To Black Metal," the album's splitting point, is where things go afloat. While sonically appealing, it doesn't mesh the same way that the album has already established for itself. It let's the air out of the balloon by taking whatever flowed before it and instead fumbling with it. More importantly, if James's lyrics talk about the darkness of the genre, why do we hear bellowing horns and harmonizing children? The song becomes more of a confused and conflicting effort than a realized one, and it's quite a turn off in the scheme of things.

The second half is just a neutral affair. Songs like "You Wanna Freak Out" or the sardonically titled "Slow Slow Tune" sort of straddle along in their influences. It's understandable that bands utilize a genre or artist's influence in their music - there's almost no way not to these days - but this half of the record almost teeters on self-mockery. They sound close to many other songs in their genre, right down to James vocal style. It's just plain, and that's somewhat of a cheated feeling, is it not?

Circuital isn't necessarily a "rebound" since their use of variety doesn't actually change anything this time around, but it generally defines and correctly titles their continued use of it and the balancing act that ensues. It's the kind of hit-or-miss record that MMJ usually releases, so nothing's different. It remains true to what they've done in the past, though sometimes it lacks lyrically and musically. It's not necessarily a case of laziness, but sometimes it doesn't take the opportunity to take some initiative.


My Morning Jacket - "The Day Is Coming"

My Morning Jacket - "Outta My System"

Circuital is now available on ATO Records.


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