The mid 1990ís music scene was the same was a place of confusion. Rap and R&B music were ruling the charts, while rock seemed to be in a slight rut. Some bands began to bring back punk music, others tried to continue on the strength of grunge and alternative which had been dying for years. Other bands began molding sounds together. Bands like Rage Against The Machine seamlessly combined hard rock with rap to send a political message, This music eventually evolving into nu metal would take over charts for years to come. But another band was forming around these turbulent times.
My Morning Jacket is a bunch of young men from a Kentucky suburb of Louisville. While Rage was using rap and rock these guys were experimenting with the idea of combining Alternative music and the country fueled rock of Neil Young. Never overcoming the title of ďNext Big ThingĒ the guys released many albums up until 2005 when they released Z
The album was though of by many to be the bands masterwork, by now their music had evolved into a wonderful mix of Lynyrd Skynyrdís southern rock and Radioheadís slightly claustrophobic brit rock.
The albums 10 songs have many different feels to them, for instance there is the bandís loose jam rock feel (Wordless Chorus) and U2 styled alternative (Gideon) on with the latter style MMJ create wondrous atmospheres, full of juicy bass, chorused guitars airy synthesizers. Most of the albumís drums are great. They are as heavy as they are muffled and calming, this is thanks to some close to genius production thanks to legendary rock producer John Leckie (Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Radiohead, Stone Roses). Once the album is through you will realize the money it took to snag such an awesome producer is money well spent. All the levels of sound are perfectly wound together, forming an epic wall of sound on the simplest of pop tunes. With that point out of the way, I will continue the review.
The most fascinating aspect of MMJís music is the falsetto tinged voice of lead singer Jim James. He invokes Neil Young, Freddy Mercury and Wilcoís Jeff Tweedy. Most often the center of every song Jimís voice powers through Pop hooks and southern power. His voice tends to be a little over reverbed, giving it somewhat of a mystical feel while remaining one of the most fun voices in indie history. While lead singers nowadays are trying to reinvoke the darkness of Ian Curtis or Robert Smith, Jim has one of the most refreshing voices in alt. today.
The most standout part of MMJís music is their use of the organ. The albumís organ playing can have southern flavor, alternative prowess or carnival melody. Track 6, Into the Woods serves up the latter, polka themed carnival music for the indie loverís soul. Jimís warble sings about giving up on ones self over sounds as diverse as the screech of a guitar or a gigantic church choir.
My Morning Jacket conjures up images of young kids singing and dancing in a time far gone. Though they have been compared endlessly to Radiohead, when I hear Radiohead the imagery is far from a scene like this. And Radiohead would never play a song like Off the Record. As the first single I suppose the song does its job, but not much more. It has a laid back drum beat under a trebly array of barre chords. The song originally turned me off from the band, but now when I listen to it Iím astounded by how catchy it is. A decent song overall, which is not always the case for an albumís first single.
Probably the best track on the CD comes more than halfway through the album. Like many other bands before them track number 7, Anytime shows MMJ at not only their heaviest, but also one of their catchiest. In an era where guitar tone is often thrown aside as long as it sounds good with the vocals, A song that where the guitar is as, if not more beautiful as the vocals can astound and amaze, but then again My Morning jacket hardly do again that fits with this era (and their all the better for it) Once again the organs stand out beautifully.
The albumís first ballad comes in Knot Comes Loose. The song is centered on a simple acoustic guitar part and once again Jimís voice. The track, while including a little Caribbean steel drumming, piano and the slightly ambient whine of a distorted guitar is fairly good. Once again the vocals are a tad over-reverbed, which in no way is a bad thing. The album ends on an extremely track Radiohead minimalist track, Dondante. A little bass, a little drums and Thom Yorke style singing donít always make for the best album ender is what I was thinking when I first heard the song, but the time the guitars fully come in the song is transformed into a powerful love-lorn rocker. Maybe not the perfect ending, but pretty darn close.
This record, while more comparable to the Flaming Lips or Grandaddy might very well cement My Morning Jacket as one todayís coolest alt-country bands (along with Wilco and the Drive-by Truckers) and certainly deserves a 4.5.
Wordless Chorus (4/5)
Off the Record (4/5)