Monday, July 11, 2011

Better Late Than Never Reviews: Circuital - My Morning Jacket

Circuital, the sixth studio album by Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket, is four-fifths of a great album. While not as grandiose as Z or adventurous as their last album, Evil Urges, it does feature eight tracks with their signature multi-guitar attack, layered sonics, and endlessly memorable choruses. However, the last two tracks on the album are enough to wonder if the band simply fell asleep at the wheel or if they were working to have the same thing happen to their audience while they were operating their automobiles.

Album highlights include the title track, a seven-minute monster that alternates between spare, echo-filled acoustics and soaring, country-tinged electric solos, all of which is balanced by an instantly catchy bass line and nimble piano work. "The Day Is Coming" also stands out, with a somewhat ghostly wordless intro, more stellar work on the keys (both conventional and Moog-like), and one of lead singer Jim James' best vocal turns of the album. "Holdin' on to Black Metal," which ranks as the album's best song and the one that best encapsulates the bands delicate balance of delicate songcraft and R&B eccentricity, features tweaked James vocals formed into a sort of demonic choir (and even some actual chorus work in other parts), unhinged horns, unholy fuzz guitar, and some terrifically intrusive horn blares. All in all, the first eight tracks of the album work as a tremendous unit, all of which makes the letdown of the last two tracks all the more disappointing.

Perhaps it is simply that I prefer the band when it is more energetic, but the final two tracks, both slow jams, one even called "Slow Slow Tune," leave the album seeming unfinished. "Tune," a California dream pop throwback, features soft drums, soft vocals, and soft guitar, all of which is intermittently broken up by electric guitar flourishes. Album closer "Movin' Away" survives for the most part on spare piano, steel guitar straight off the country charts, and a nondescript James vocal.

I actually refuse to blame this on my preference for MMJ's rollicking, up-tempo joints. "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" is actually a more memorable version of the same genre on Circuital, and "Thank You Too!" and "Look At You" are examples of more deliberate tunes that stood out on Evil Urges while avoiding guitar theatrics. No, when it comes down to it the final two tracks of My Morning Jacket's latest album are just a boring ten minutes. A real slog. They are destined to be the most skipped ditties on the iPod this year.

A quite good yet incomplete album by one of the greatest bands America has to offer, Circuital would have certainly benefited more if its makers would have circled back and put two different songs on at the conclusion.

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