PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Jim James: Regions of Light and Sound of God

The My Morning Jacket frontman's first solo album is based on a graphic novel from the 1920s, and it's both as good and as bad as that sounds.


Jim James

Regions of Light and Sound of God

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2013-02-05
UK Release Date: 2013-02-04
Amazon
iTunes

Jim James is the singer for My Morning Jacket. He does a good part of the band's guitar work, and writes pretty much all the songs. He also is the band's in-house producer. So why the need, after nearly 15 years, for a solo album, when My Morning Jacket are still a going concern? Isn't MMJ pretty much James' show, anyway?

The answer must be in the process. No group decisions, disagreements, or arguments. Also, fewer constraints on time, and less pressure for commercial returns. That must be it, because Regions of Light and Sound of God does not alter the trajectory much from MMJ's last few albums. It is, however, much less produced-sounding and more intimate and stripped-down-sounding than, say, Circuital or Evil Urges. Guitars are mostly replaced by keyboards and skeletal beatbox rhythms. This small-scale approach has its benefits and drawbacks.

Regions of Light and Sound of God has more of a haunted, spooky vibe than anything James has done since MMJ's It Still Moves. James' yearning, slightly drawly voice is in itself an emotive, often beautiful instrument. Turns out James knows how to capture its essence better than any of the producers the bands have worked with of late. Throughout Regions of Light and Sound of God, it's presented richly, fully, and warmly, with the right amount of reverb. You really need look no further than "A New Life", an acoustic stunner that recalls the best of early solo-period John Lennon…that is, before it turns into something more like a showtune.

And this is one of the drawbacks of James' do-it-yourself approach. He sometimes overdoes things, probably because he can. Regions of Light and Sound of God is inspired in large part by a graphic novel from the 1920s. Apparently, James saw parallels between his own recent experiences and those of the novel's protagonist. Fair enough. But sometimes James seems to get lost in the mythology of his own album, letting the general atmosphere and sense of wonder take precedence over the songs and arrangements. This does not necessarily have to be a problem, but James is, after all, a singer-songwriter.

The opening duo of "State of the Art" and "Know 'Til Now" are powerful, not least because they are relatively tight. "State of the Art" starts off with just a somber piano figure and James' voice, then takes a couple minutes to build to the sort of moody epic that My Morning Jacket do so well. It's not far removed from "Victory Dance" from Circuital, actually. "Know 'Til Now" is, for lack of a better term" gothic Southern soul, with its stop-start rhythm, groovy bassline, and seductive vocals. It's not exactly a new side of James, but it sheds new light on a side of him he has revealed before. That makes it one of Regions of Light and Sound of God's highlights.

But then "Dear One" does its best to kill the mood through sheer clumsiness. All "dark", heavy synth pads, "cryptic" bassline, and "deep" lyrics about the "ticking synchronicity of time", it just comes close, too close, to self-parody. James' disinterested, mumbling vocal doesn't help, either. And then you have the cheesy synthetic oboe or whatever that is on the would-be eerie, Eastern-tinged "All Is Forgiven". You can't tell if James is really on a new spiritual plane, or just caught up in Bowser's castle in a particularly intense, pot-assisted game of Mario Kart. "Actress", by contrast, is all the better for wearing its easy-going nature on its sleeve.

Regions of Light and Sound of God ends up evincing contradictions that are common to such solo albums by well-established bandleaders. Its vision, however good-intentioned, is a bit overambitious, while its execution and production are a bit undercooked. Wouldn't the best tracks be even better as My Morning Jacket songs? Somewhere along the line, James seems to have had a very personal epiphany, and you can't really blame him for wanting to share it in equally personal music. The first half of "A New Life" notwithstanding, it's just not some of his best music.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.