For over 10 years, My Morning Jacket have been one of the most respected and critically lauded US rock bands, and have built up a huge fanbase in their homeland as well as a large cult following on this side of the Atlantic. Their epic live shows and varied, energetic slabs of radio-friendly rock have morphed gradually over their career, from the southern-fried jams of 2003 effort “It Still Moves” to the sprawling, R & B influenced “Evil Urges”, the band’s last studio release. That record saw them incorporate more and more groove-based elements into their sound – culminating in some poor changes of taste – the cringe inducing Highly Suspicious being a perfect example.
Circuital sees the band rein in some of these excesses and get back to their roots somewhat. The band demonstrate their skill at creating suspense on opener Victory Dance, as it grows gradually to a menacing, cinematic conclusion, finally cracking under the tension in a hail of noise. Similar can be said of the title track, as it sprawls out over 7 plus minutes, building from a nervy, muted opening into a bright, widescreen rocker Springsteen would be proud of. Frontman Jim James is on fine vocal form throughout the album, but what is surprising is how restrained the band seem in comparison to the previous releases. There are none of the extensive rock-outs of old to be found here, and many of the tunes fall short of really hitting the heights.
The synth heavy First Light is a good example – it bounces along energetically, a little hamstrung by a terribly simplistic lyric, but its conclusion is merely a brass-laden rehash of the main part of the song. When they slow the pace, James’ lyrical frailties come a little more into the light, as on Wonderful (The Way I Feel), which despite a genuinely sweet tune is crushingly banal in its sentiments. When James takes a few risks in his subject matter, as on Outta My System, his words become altogether more engaging and result in one of the album’s highlights.
This record floats by fairly unnoticed at first, but the quality arrangements, coupled with James’ melodic ability and strong voice are worthy of revisiting. But there’s no sense that this record will win them any new fans or any more exposure, particularly on our side of the pond. The worrying thing is that it seems that MMJ’s best compositions may be behind them.
Release Date – 31/5/2011