Bands that exist over extended periods of time often fluctuate their sound as the years pass. Most frequently, these are the bands that progress through multiple decades within the industry. For example, David Bowie has adjusted his makeup application quite a few times since 1967, but this should be expected from a lengthy, 40-year tenure. One of today's most excitable performers, My Morning Jacket, has habitually modified their sound throughout a meager, 12-year existence (only small in comparison to their spaced out predecessor). While their image may have undergone a shocking hair/beard shape-up here and there, their sonic output has experienced the greatest shifts. Their debut LP, The Tennessee Fire (1999), provided Jim James and company with the feel of a contemporary Neil Young. Their Southern-pastoral sentiment has since been renovated into forms of funk, psychedelia, and experimental rock. My Morning Jacket's continual alterations have given them an undeniably polarized fan-base. And their latest, Circuital, proves to be their first full-length that will charm their entire, diverse family of admirers.
My Morning Jacket teased us for six weeks with the stipend of free, live tracks of their legendary Terminal 5 performance. This all led up to the eventual release of the first, Circuital single, its title track. And finally, after the release of the entire LP, we can fully appreciate the rumors that they have finally "returned to their roots." The album shouldn't simply be deemed as a Fire or It Still Moves redux, as James' quintet has found uses of their entire sonic journey.
The album's title track most evidently recaptures their original vibe. Sanguine strings twang and James' iconic moans and howls embody the classic, blue-collar rock aesthetic. "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" similarly emulates the Southern grace of their past. A charming acoustic ballad, James passionately whispers, "With the sun on my shoulder and the wind at my back/I will never grow older/At least not in my mind."
Their return home doesn't indicate an exact sonic semblance to their classics. More noticeably, they've embraced the musical simplicity of their earlier work. Many tracks possess qualities of unconventional (to MMJ), archetypal, straightforward tune construction. "The Day Is Coming", "First Light" and "Outta My System" embody nuances of Britpop. The latter resembles a Ramones-ian jingle with James' quirky recital, "They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn't listened/Never thought I'd get caught, and wind up in prison."
The band's greatest musical divergence on the album is "Holdin On To Black Metal". Nothing like its title would indicate, it is heavy and soulful, as Chicago-big-band horns sear above James' falsetto and an accompanying choir. Its mighty chorus would even impress Scatman Crothers.
There's little to knock on MMJ's latest. Certainly, many will continue to say that their studio recordings are no match to their live performances, but is this really a negative critique? Circuital was recorded in a church gym in their hometown, Louisville, KY. It's not necessarily a live show, but Circuital is possibly the closest your earbuds will get you to James' beard.