The first time I heard My Morning Jacket was 2003’s It Still Moves. I was startled by the band’s liberal use of echoing reverb, a quality that created a kind of ghostly rock and roll. Since that time MMJ has been hard to define as they’ve genre-jumped and played with personas, especially lead singer and songwriter Jim James who has reinvented himself as Yim Yames on a multitude of projects with and beyond the band. Soul, funk, psychedelia, have merge with their rock to varying degrees of success. So what to expect from a new album is anyone’s guess.
Circuital finds the band reconnecting with the big anthem rock of its early releases while still presenting some of the band’s prettiest acoustic melodies to date. Yames and cohorts set the standard immediately with “Victory Dance.” Sans Yames falsetto and reverb but with hints of spaghetti western riffs and dramatic orchestration, this is as close to arena rock as you’ll find in today’s music market. As the opening song fades the title track rolls in like morning mist before sunny guitars break through to carry Yames’ contemplation on life’s cycles. “The Way I Feel” has almost a Bacharach feel with the addition of lovely string and bell arrangements. Sweet strings and acoustic guitar court Yames’ delicate vocals on “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” It is on these tracks that we hear most the influence of Tucker Martine, who has a tendency to produce with a gentle touch.
There are a few oddball moments on the album, thanks to Yames’ goofy sense of humor. “Out of My System” finds him singing “They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen/Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison.” “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” is a weird junk-jam that sounds like it fell off the band’s release Evil Urges. “First Light” slips back to rock but with a funky edge and fuzz guitar. Speaking of guitar, Circuital does not feature much in the way of guitar solos despite the excellence of the guitar core. Mostly guitars are used as accompanying instruments, teaming with keyboards. Also reined in on this album is Yim James vocals; no barbaric yawps on this album. Horns are used sparingly, another difference from past releases. Banjo and slide guitar makes an appearance on “You Wanna Freak Out.” Circuital comes full circle by ending with the ballad “Movin Away” which features Yames, piano, slide guitar, and minimal percussion. It’s a reminder that even within an album, My Morning Jacket is a band that is near impossible to pin down to one style or tempo.
This album is one on WYEP's top ten of 2011. Pick up a copy of WYEP's Year in Review book with your membership to independent public radio.