My Morning Jacket
Artist: My Morning Jacket
Label: ATO Records
Somewhere, deep inside of the members of My Morning Jacket, there are weirdo art freaks just waiting to get out. These shaggy Kentucky guys have long had some quirky, experimental tendencies, and while this has sometimes led them astray (see 2008s all-over-the-map mess Evil Urges), it has also given them an air of unpredictability. From one song to the next, its difficult to tell whether the band will launch into an epic guitar jam, or if frontman Jim James will bust out his kooky falsetto.
My Morning Jackets seventh full-length, The Waterfall, finds the band treading its now-familiar middle ground between tongue-in-cheek neo-soul and rock traditionalism. None of the songs are too overtly wacky theres no peanut butter pudding surprise or Holdin on to Black Metal. Rather, the bands adventurousness manifests itself in the lush production which sets the groups usual bourbon-soaked, salt-of-the-earth rock against swooping strings and sparkling synths.
The album begins with the upwards keyboard twinkles of Believe (Nobody Knows), which give way to triumphantly clanging guitars. Sonically speaking, its gorgeous, although the reverent, inspirational mood would have fit better on a fun. album than it does here. Next up, Compound Fracture sports a slippery groove and pillowy layers of synths, chiming guitars and thick harmonies, while Like a River slathers its Fleet Foxes-style folk in syrupy strings.
Combine these grand arrangements with lyrics that are heavy on natural imagery, and it all adds up to a hyperreal pastoral sound something akin to the fantastical, colour-tinged image of a waterfall that appears on the album cover.
The problem is that the ornate production sometimes takes the emphasis away from the songs themselves. Too often, My Morning Jacket sounds out of its wheelhouse the riffs and melodies dont make as much of an impression those that appeared on 2005s career highlight Z, and the guitar jams arent as muscular (or frequent) as they sometimes have been in the past.
Tellingly, the highlights of The Waterfall are the most stripped-down moments. Get the Point is a sweetly simple breakup ballad that finds James eulogizing a relationship over a gentle acoustic finger-picking. And then I realized all the time I was wastin / Trying to mend a broken situation / Daydreaming of leaving, I only had to do it, he intones simply. A drum beat enters in the second half of the song, although it works better without it.
Similarly, Big Decisions is gratifying unfussy, a crunchy start-stop riff leaving plenty of room for swooning pedal steel and James ghostly howls. And closer Only Memories Remain is a graceful torch song thats one of the bands better soul excursions; it doesnt merit its seven-minute runtime, but its quietly touching.