My Morning Jacket

The Waterfall

Written by: TL on 08/06/2015 22:22:28

Seventeen years and seven albums into their career, Kentucky quintet My Morning Jacket have long since become a bit of an institution in the indie/psych/alt-country corner of the music scene that they reside in. In later years, albums from them have gradually appeared further apart, yet the arrival of the most recent effort "The Waterfall" still somehow just feels timely. On it the band continues to confidently deliver eclectic and atmospheric tracks where the musical artisanship is pretty much beyond questioning. Vocals, drums, bass, guitars and keys, some of them drenched in a variety of effects that come and go as they are needed, are all woven in and out of each other expertly.

The songs sometimes take conventional structures, sometimes not, yet rarely does My Morning Jacket let the listener lose track of where a song is on its way to. Take opener "Believe (Nobody Knows)", which perfectly shows just how deft the group is at both placement of instruments, assignment of roles and timing of developments. The piano keys deliver a repetitive signature at the foundation of the song, while the drums, bass and guitar all ebb and flow beneath frontman Jim James' characteristically softly chanting singing. The instruments carefully regulate the intensity as the song spirals up to the lyrical chorus, then die down and go about it again, but at a slightly increased tempo mind you, meaning that the return trip is familiar, yet not the same.

You get the sense already here - and it's symptomatic for the album - that My Morning Jacket pay attention to details and delicacies, and that they have a fine feeling for balancing things. They move along with the right amounts of repetition and evolution to both keep you interested and give you a sense of movement, without putting you in any danger of getting confused about which song you're listening to.

As a direct consequence, "The Waterfall" is already a better record than most, and especially so for listeners who insist on really paying attention as they listen, as they will find plenty of texture to keep them interested on several trips through. In fact, the only arguable downside to the experience is that My Morning Jacket are such a constantly laid back bunch. It sounds like they have merely been grooving contently in their armchairs while penning a song like "Compound Fracture". "There's no evil; there's no good, only people doin' as they should" sings James, in a moment that has about the same levels of urgency and energy as strolling down a city street on a summer day where you have nothing better to do. There's a casual detachment to the songs that makes you feel like Jim James would probably be really cool to speak with, even in disagreement, yet it makes the songs' appeal limited as a casual, intellectual one, as they don't really provoke much feeling.

The best exceptions come in "In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)" and "Spring (Among The Living)", both of which have parts that invoke a slightly darker, almost a bit tribal feeling. Particularly in the former, where this feeling only appears briefly in the beginning and end, residing on some heavy key strokes, while the in-between song floats away on lighter psych waves. Yet the juxtaposition still makes for some good contrast, sort of coating the whole thing in a slightly more spiritual tint and distracting you from thoughts of comfortable career musicians waxing philosophical about this and that.

Long story short? "The Waterfall" is a good record, especially for those who like to get nerdy and sit around and listen for musical intricacies. It might be even better though if the songs felt a bit more like they had roots in something that bothered My Morning Jacket just a little bit.

Download: Believe (Nobody Knows), In Its Infancy (The Waterfall), Spring (Among The Living)
For The Fans Of: Wintersleep, Mystery Jets, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Amazing

Release date 04.05.2015
ATO Records

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