Under Review: My Morning Jacket – Circuital

Though the music is rarely aggressive, My Morning Jacket is a very reactionary band. From album to album, they’ve explored new sounds and tried to incorporate elements from their celebrated live show into their recordings. They were accused of exploring a little too far on their last outing, 2008’s Evil Urges, though what that album boasts is a ton of character. Circuital, MMJ’s sixth full-length album, is the result of a few sources of inspiration, including songs crafted on the road and ideas that leader Jim James had pitched for the upcoming Muppets movie. With excursions into bonkers funk and tender, country-tinged ballads, Evil Urges would’ve served as a much stronger soundtrack to the endearingly outrageous world of the Muppets; Circuital sounds instead like a set of uncertain, hesitant sketches.

Circuital begins with “Victory Dance,” which is far less a celebratory track than you might imagine. It’s an effective slow-burning overture, but it’s not as exciting as previous album openers like “Magheetah,” “Wordless Chorus” or “Evil Urges.” The title track of Circuital delivers some understated playing, with an appropriately orbital rhythm supplied by Carl Broemel’s guitar and Bo Koster’s piano. Two of the album’s more extroverted moments come right at the center in the pairing of “Outta My System” and “Holdin’ On To Black Metal.” The first is a kind of self examination that compares James’ physical detoxification with his desire to live outside of the mainstream grid. The second is a horn- and choir-backed rocker that, while a relative standout on this record, would be a forgettable inclusion elsewhere.

Much of Circuital is subdued and restrained, two adjectives that would never be used to describe a My Morning Jacket concert. Recent concert favorites like “Wonderful” turn up on Circuital in mellowed-out forms, and even the extended solos sound like warm-up sessions rather than the final takes. Despite their struggles in the studio, My Morning Jacket remain important in the modern music scene. Some bands simply don’t shine as bright within the confines of a studio, and that’s fine. If Circuital is a direct retreat from the excesses of Evil Urges, then My Morning Jacket’s albums will continue to follow a palatable but ultimately forgettable path.

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~ by E. on June 1, 2011.

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