My Morning Jacket
The Waterfall


3.4
great

Review

by Rudy K. EMERITUS
May 5th, 2015 | 77 replies


Release Date: 2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: No climbing over the railing.

The Waterfall is a gorgeous record, but rarely is it a gripping one. Like the bucolic landscape its cover suggests, My Morning Jacket’s seventh record sounds rustic and lived in, its parts taking liberally from all the peaks and valleys of the band’s discography and coming away with a fitting snapshot of where the band is today. Frontman and force of nature Jim James has said in the publicity tour leading up to this record that the past few years have left him spent, injured, and generally more than cognizable of the fact that middle age is inching uncomfortably close for a man with a penchant for hard touring and detonating relationships. It makes sense, then, that his first return to My Morning Jacket since 2011’s lackluster Circuital feels expansive and confident, well stocked with fresh ideas and James’ trademark pipes, marinated in reverb and still in fine form. It’s the band’s best collection of songs since 2005’s landmark Z, yet it suffers from the same problem both Circuital and 2008’s Evil Urges dealt with: a lack of immediacy, of vitality, of My Morning Jacket really coming through the speakers to grab you like they do so easily in person. You want The Waterfall to crash and geyser, to whip you around in a frenzy and lose you in a torrent. More often than not, though, you get the world’s prettiest lazy river ride.

The initial signs are promising enough. For all the childish wonder that bogs down James’ lyrics – and James’ lyrics have hardly ever been a make-or-break point for MMJ – “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is thrilling, building a sense of anticipation and catharsis that uses that punchy guitar riff to delightfully restrained effect. “Compound Fracture,” meanwhile, takes more after the band’s latter era with its James’ neo-soul affectations and a sleek keyboard tone that sounds simultaneously dated and smoothly modern. Where earlier attempts at this sound often had My Morning Jacket coming off as caricatures of themselves, “Compound Fracture” and its woozier cousin, the psychedelic soul number “Thin Line,” sound like My Morning Jacket in their happy place, seamlessly marrying the twang of their earlier records with a funky, genre-ambiguous songwriting soup.

The band is talented enough to pull these tracks off, but The Waterfall’s fatal flaw is in the record’s pacing. Simply put, these are songs that tend to just glide by, lovely but somewhat insubstantial. When the band’s trademark guitar histrionics make a brief cameo at the end of “Thin Line,” or, better yet, when the deadly dull “Tropics (Erase Traces)” is rescued by the gnarliest, most wrenching guitar solo the band has allowed all record, you’re practically snapped out of a reverie. It’s a beautiful slumber, though. “Like a River” is almost mystical in its winding progressions and James’ haunting falsetto, no matter that one can hardly understand what he’s saying (there’s a sort of woodsman charm to that). “Get the Point” is, in its spartan arrangement and James’ plaintive, resigned lyrics, happily straightforward and the logical midpoint of a record that tends to swell over its banks more often than not. It’s a song that breaks no new ground, but with as talented a songwriting team as My Morning Jacket is, new ground is almost superfluous.

It’s a lesson that I wish could have been applied to The Waterfall as a whole. While its explorations are deft and assured, there doesn’t seem to be much at stake. For all of James’ personal turmoil, rarely does he ever come across as more than totally in command, an admirable trait but one that drags down much of The Waterfall to both a lyrical and sonic sameness. There’s some reassurance in that many of the more aimless songs sound like they would translate far better to the band’s true home on the stage, but here they qualify more as two-dimensional portraits. The hectic production and hints of self-doubt that James delivers on “Spring (Among the Living”) is a welcome bit of dirt on a record that sounds too big to fail, as is the hint of scratching strain that James screams out on the chorus to “Big Decisions.” Instead, the record closes with “Only Memories Remain,” a breakup song that doubles as a meandering, blissfully unhurried narcotic. It feels like drowning, but My Morning Jacket’s idealized version of it, sinking into a peaceful slumber soundtracked by delicate guitar noodling and the falsetto of a god, but it’s all wrong; drowning should be visceral and violent, all struggle and gasps. But of course that wouldn’t work on The Waterfall. It’s a record that feels too much like a dream to draw any real blood.



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user ratings (172)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Emeritus
May 5th 2015


12409 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

"Big Decisions" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE3DgcECSn8

Spec
May 5th 2015


39375 Comments


Still haven't checked these guys out. Not gonna lie, I only know who they are because of 'American Dad.'

Spec
May 5th 2015


39375 Comments


Yeah i'm pretty embarrassed tbh.

klap
Emeritus
May 5th 2015


12409 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

do they soundtrack american dad or something? never watched



It Still Moves is a stone cold killer

Spec
May 5th 2015


39375 Comments


Yeah Stan's daughter was super into them and Stan got into them and started skipping work and shit. Something like that.

klap
Emeritus
May 5th 2015


12409 Comments

Album Rating: 3.4

that's sort of hilarious

Spec
May 5th 2015


39375 Comments


I enjoyed it. Not a bad show honestly.

TalonsOfFire
Emeritus
May 5th 2015


20969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It was a funny episode, petty random but it exposed a lot of people, including me, to the band which I appreciate

Veldin
May 5th 2015


5240 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

p good

DoofusWainwright
May 5th 2015


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Not 100% convinced the world needs another MMJ album but will check this out.



Such a 3/3.5 rating band

Sowing
Moderator
May 5th 2015


43943 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've only listened to this twice but I really liked it. I especially agree with your statement that it's gorgeous but rarely gripping...I'll probably have a similar rating. The guitars on 'Like a River' are one of my favorite parts so far.

RadicalEd
May 5th 2015


9546 Comments


linked song is a hard 3.4/5. Review reads well and I think I will have a similar opinion, once I get around to listening to it.

DoofusWainwright
May 5th 2015


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

First listen and I think they've decided to make their most unified sounding album since It Still Moves with less crazy changes in style from one song to the next.



This lands halfway between the expansive textures of 'It Still Moves' and the 'all bells and whistles' Flaming Lips 'Soft Bulletin' production style leaving the album with a pleasant cosmic vibe.



Agree with the review, they parachuted in a few gnarly guitar solos to rescue some of the more pedestrian songs.









Nrap
May 5th 2015


525 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Started listening to it last night. And your review seems dead on. Especially that opening paragraph. Although I am in that rare camp that LOVED Evil Urges. Circuital was very meh. This seems a little better, but never drew me in to where I had to listen intently or even finish the record before I got side tracked.

Need to spend some more time with it.

TwigTW
May 5th 2015


3934 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"The Waterfall is a gorgeous record, but rarely is it a gripping one"--exactly. I'm enjoying this album, and I think it's very good, but I can't say it's great.

ZackSh33
May 5th 2015


729 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Although I am in that rare camp that LOVED Evil Urges. [2]

RVAHC13
May 5th 2015


837 Comments


Band and album are awesome

TalonsOfFire
Emeritus
May 5th 2015


20969 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm liking this better than Circuital so far

jtswope
May 5th 2015


5788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Looking forward to hearing this.

LowellWolfe
May 5th 2015


18 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This record is their best yet in my opinion. The first three tracks are decent but after that they're all flawless.





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