I’ve never been very much into My Morning Jacket, mostly because I find that they are a band founded upon contradiction. The first song I heard from the group was “Off the Record” off their 2005 album, Z. It was a breezy indie rock number that went into an electronic-indebted jam session in its second half. The song clocked in at five and a half minutes and that felt just right for a song so poppy and modest. Come to find out, though, that the group is supposed to be a southern rock outfit with Flying V guitars and raucous live shows, and I couldn’t believe it. This was mostly due to MMJ singer Jim James’s voice. It was so soft, so nasally; it couldn’t possible fit over any music that was remotely aggressive.
So now, we find ourselves at My Morning Jacket’s sixth album and I’m still having trouble with that contradiction in their style. The Louisville group seems to have a lot of ideas on Circuital, and the product’s a bit of a sprawl. “Victory Dance” sounds like a Deep Purple raised in Memphis and “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” sounds like acoustic Neil Young. More than any other song I’ve heard in a long time, “Outta My System” sounds like The Who circa The Who Sell Out. With double-tracked vocals, James speaks of the need to get debauchery done early in life so that it doesn’t manifest itself in a “midlife crisis”. “They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen / Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison / Chalk it up to youth but young age I ain’t dissin’ / I just had to get it outta my system,” James sings at the track’s beginning and I’m immediately reminded of a Roger Daltry-like character lecturing youngin’s only slightly younger than he. I half expect James to say he can see his drug problem going on for miles and miles.
It’s difficult to say whether Circuital lives up to the southern rock thrill that I have often heard is these guys’ trademark. Instead, we have some really good indie rock songs, nothing more nothing less. “You Wanna Freak Out” is light guitar pop in the vein of “Off the Record” that is a highlight late in the album. “First Light” is a classic rocker shaken up by a blaring low-end synth. The winner of best track on the album is a three-way tie between the title track, “The Day Is Coming” and “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”. The title track erupts from an acoustic jaunt into reliable rips of power chords and guitar solos. “The Day Is Coming” features an off-kilter drum pattern with a bass boom that refreshes the verses. And “Black Metal” features a children’s choir and a horn section, two of the least likely components to ever be featured on a black metal song. Nevertheless, it rocks like a raunchy spy film theme sung with dainty falsettos.
Despite the many places that My Morning Jacket explore on Circuital, the group never stretches themselves too thin. It’s a very consistent release and fans of the group’s last two albums will find nothing to object to here. I don’t know if Circuital or My Morning Jacket in general deserve all this critical praise, but I dislike nothing on the group’s newest and enjoy quite a bit of it. One could make the argument that MMJ is having some significant trouble finding a cohesive sound, but I’d be more likely to chalk that up to experimentation rather than indecisiveness. While not exemplary, Circuital will satisfy one’s taste for indie rock that wishes it were a couple decades older.