My Morning Jacket’s popularity has exploded over the last few years: See, for instance, their Madison Square Garden New Year’s appearance in 2009, guest spot on American Dad, and week-long residency at Terminal 5 in 2010. All of this even though, depending on who you ask, the band’s never matched It Still Moves or Z. That said, Circuital — a more consistent and enjoyable experience than Evil Urges — is a step in the right direction.
The three best tracks on Circuital are the ones you’ve probably already heard, but they’re worth hearing again: The live staple “Wonderful” sweetens Jim James’ vocal with strings. “Holdin’ On To Black Metal,” their strangest and best experiment in a while, reminds you of a Vegas show, over the top and full of glitter and chorus girls (it borrows from a piece of Thai pop). And the title track is the best live bet for the same reasons it sounds good on record: The gauzy hum, soft acoustic guitar and padded drum of the first few minutes move into a rambling mid-tempo road song before it collapses back down. It’s got a nice curve to it that should work well in the cavernous venues they get to play now.
The rest of Circuital is a little flat, with a few exceptions like closer “Movin Away,” which features a delicate cracking vocal from Jim James. (Unfortunately, the remainder of the album fails to show off that voice, one of the most compelling in rock: It’s rich, gorgeous, limber.) The background vocals on “Victory Dance” will remind you a bit of the sometimes off, sometimes inspired risks they took on Evil Urges. The dry rhythm on that song is a nice touch too (as it goes with MMJ songs, they put some of their most interesting sonic ideas in the back of the mix).
Lyrically the band don’t stretch themselves; lots of songs seem to be about getting older and escape and are filled with the kind of pat philosophical observations you get from the guy drinking alone at the bar (“you’re dying a little bit every day,” etc.). “Outta My System,” though, combines those themes with some funny lines about getting caught getting high: “They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn’t listen / Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison.” No longer young enough to “smoke drugs,” My Morning Jacket’s highs aren’t as high as they used to be … but at least they do come once in a while.
Circuital is out 5/31 via ATO.