Review Summary: Southern rock, indie, and psychedelic synergies have been realized.
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
I first discovered My Morning Jacket while at a friend's place. He had on some bootlegged B-side as background music for a small gathering and I liked it enough that I asked who they were. I picked up It Still Moves
and was happy. About a year later, my school's campus entertainment group allowed students to vote for bands for our Spring Fling concert. Among the ranks of nostalgic and likable has-beens (Third-Eye Blind and Cake) was My Morning Jacket. I immediately made a thread on our school's online discussion board petitioning that we vote for My Morning Jacket. Instead of getting the expected support of hipsters and indie kids, I instead got the strongest support from a group of football and lacrosse players who lived in my school's animal house. Apparently their entire house lives and dies by MMJ and were eagerly anticipating the prospect of them coming to our school. I realized My Morning Jacket are a group that can appeal to both jocks and indie kids, from the most jacked up athletes to the most waifish hipsters. Its their blend of disparate yet catchy influences and styles that allows them to appeal to such a wide audience. And myself, being either an overgrown indie kid or an undersized jock, I too was amped for a MMJ, and after the rest of the campus decided on Third Eye Blind, I settled for the nice consolation prize of digging into their new album, Evil Urges
Before describing the new album specifically, it may help to overview MMJ's previous releases. In general, they mix southern rock, arena rock, alternative, indie, and little flourishes of psychedelia and punk. It Still Moves
is the band's most southern-sounding album though this sound is wrapped in longer song structures that unfold over time, indulging in jammy interludes and pensive indie atmospheres. Z
plays like a greatest hits albums. All of the songs are great, but highly eclectic. "Off the Record" is vintage reggae-tinged punk in the spirit of The Clash. "What a Wonderful Man" is a pop ditty. "Wordless Chorus" is an indie crooner with an electronic heartbeat in the background. Evil Urges
as the next installment sounds like a refinement of the influences of the previous albums. It's as southern and almost as epic as It Still Moves
though it has the ability to be diverse as well. "Thank You Too" is a soft love song, with spacy guitar tones and a string section, but the verses feel indebted to the more rock and roll style carved out on It Still Moves
. "Remnants" belts out rock fury with a punk pace but doesn't lose sight of its pop and indie foundation and includes a jangly tambourine during the verses. The smooth puree of styles is best represented by "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2," an 8-minute arena rock epic that employs soft synth, vibrato-laden guitars, reverby vocals, and a dancy drum and bass interplay. Each individual instrument sounds jazzy, southern, indie, and straight out of disco, respectively, without sounding jumbled together or incongruous. If anything Evil Urges
is an impressive example of melding genres and having a multifaceted aesthetic while maintaining a distinctive central sound.
But Evil Urges
is more than that. It's also a guitar-rock album. There are blazing solos, there are leads riffs, and there are slide guitars galore, all courtesy of the dual guitars. It's also a highly sappy album subject to balladry. "Thank You Too" and "Smokin' From Shootin'" are both slow, melodic, and lush, but in a good way. It's also artistic, in both a prog and indie way, combining prog's grandiose arrangements and aspirations with indie's tonal concerns. It's also a vocally compelling album. Jim James' reverb-wet vocals are as moist as ever, and really take the crown for the best reverby indie vocals, narrowly beating out those of Band of Horses. Most importantly though, in the same way Z
felt like a greatest hits album, every single song on Evil Urges
(except the 80s-era Prince-influenced "Highly Suspicious") is pretty awesome in a distinctive way. Even the unassuming slow songs like "Librarian" and "Sec Walkin'" manage to be incredibly wistful and moving despite being upstaged by anthemic rock tracks like "Evil Urges" and "Remnants." In fact, one of the best songs on the album is the understated "Smokin' From Shootin'" which feels like the last breath of air before plunging into the album's epic concluding track. It builds its energy very demurely until it yields the most poignant chorus on the entire album that wins over the listener with its soft pulsing and simplistic lyrics:
Originally Posted by Smokin' From Shootin'
Do you see my smokin guns
They're smokin from-a shootin
Smokin from shootin
Smokin from shootin at nothin
Do you live your life on the road
Losin out on lovin
Askin for nothin
Running from somethin that isn't there
The track's outro then elevates the stakes of the song, adding exotic modal mixture harmonies with an ambient soundscape and an accompanying piano that sounds like something out of a Cave In or Sufjan Stevens album, implying an experimental yet beautiful sensibility that immediately eclipses the best moments on their previous albums.
There are some negatives though. Evil Urges
has the tendency to wax sentimental in ways that cloy. "Thank You Too," one of my favorite tracks on the album, works because it's a sappy love song, though its chorus melody is actually a verbatim copy of the main melody from Akon's "I Want to Fuc
k You." The uncanny lyrics of the song "I want to take you for all that you are..." don't help either. (If you don't believe me, listen to them back to back). However, this problem is rather nitpicky, especially considering the most obvious problem on the album, the track, "Highly Suspicious," a song that I skip every single time. This song functions like "Pink Cellphone" on Deftones' almost flawless Saturday Night Wrist
; it's the sole blemish and feels like an error of judgment. It feels like a bad attempt at a "secret song" that was wedged into the position of Track 3. Ignoring this moment of the indiscretion though, My Morning Jacket have assembled a pretty wonderful album. Evil Urges
is leaps beyond its precursors in so many fundamental ways, and is more fun to boot. And considering My Morning Jacket are starting to become major-label, arena-rock icons, I hope to hear their sound developed and pushed further in future releases. As of right now though, Evil Urges
is on the top of the heap for 2008.