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

My Morning Jacket: Z

John Bergstrom

2003's stellar It Still Moves sounded like the last word on MMJ's atmospheric Southern rock. But on the follow-up, they prove they have more to say that's worth hearing.


My Morning Jacket

Z

Label: RCA
US Release Date: 2005-10-04
UK Release Date: 2005-10-17
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

How can the faint scent of disappointment lurk in the air when a good band releases its best album to date?

Sometimes a band releases an album that crystallizes that band's sound to such a degree, captures so completely everything that is unique about it, so brightly illuminates its strengths, that a follow-up seems almost unnecessary. My Morning Jacket's third album and last studio release, 2003's It Still Moves, was an album like that. It didn't display a lot of stylistic diversity. Not every song was great, and several were almost superfluous. But as a showcase for Jim James' high-pitched, reverb-drenched voice and songs about finding redemption through love and rock 'n' roll, and the band's boot-stomping yet heartbreaking brand of widescreen music, it was and is a classic.

Therefore it's impossible to listen to or discuss new album Z without the shadow of It Still Moves lurking outside the room. "For the past I'm digging/ A grave so big/ It would swallow up the sea," James sang on the latter album -- and parts of Z are certainly a departure if not a slate-wiping rebirth. The new album is clean, concise; and, song for song, the strongest My Morning Jacket record yet. The difference, ultimately, is this: It Still Moves sounded haunted and haunting. Z sounds like a band going into a studio and making a really good album. Take it on those terms and it won't let you down; in fact, it'll put in hard time on your car stereo.

While parts of previous My Morning Jacket albums sounded sloppy, Z is crisply-produced and markedly more refined, in part due to co-producer (with James) John Leckie. Leckie is best known for two records -- The Stone Roses' self-titled debut and Radiohead's The Bends. He might seem an odd selection for My Morning Jacket, but read Leckie's description of another band he produced in the '90s, House of Freaks, and the pairing makes perfect sense: "They combined Americana songs and atmospheres. They... wanted to sound British, as well as sounding American." That's My Morning Jacket in a nutshell. On Z, Leckie helps the band broaden its palette without losing its musical identity.

One of the startling aspects of Z is the absence of reverb from the backing tracks -- but, breathe easy, not James' vocals -- on several songs. So, on first listen "Wordless Chorus" and "It Beats for You" are subtle and underwhelming, even more surprising given the band's recent addition of a keyboardist and second guitarist. Give them a few listens, though, and they're almost as affecting a Track 1/Track 2 combo as "Mahgeetah" and "Dancefloors" on It Still Moves. "Chorus" in particular has that soaring, multitracked James chorus that simply arouses the spirit. Toward the end, James adds some soulful, falsetto wailing, and even the shittiest day turns into pure sunlight.

My Morning Jacket's music has commonly been described as "postmodern Southern rock". If anything, Leckie strips away some of the "postmodern". "What a Wonderful Man" is a straightforward, Big Star-style romp, and "Off the Record" does reggae the same way Led Zeppelin did reggae -- convincingly and with a rock 'n' roll kick in the ass, nevermind the meandering coda. "Anytime" is more hooky than you'd expect from this band, with James singing with a ragged, almost Paul Westerberg rasp. And if you're worried about those BIG drums, extended jams, and Southern grit, "Gideon", "Lay Low", and "Dondante" will more than satisfy. And then there's "Knot Comes Loose", a gorgeous, gorgeous ballad embroidered in lap-steel, piano and quiet percussion; a song that perfectly invokes that romantic, almost tropical feel you get from My Morning Jacket at its best.

If the band does overreach, it's on "Into the Woods", Z's musically and lyrically disturbing Wagner-meets-Pink Floyd centerpiece.

Thankfully, on Z My Morning Jacket doesn't bury its past. Rather, it translates that past into a fresh yet familiar, rip-roaring yet soothing new present.

7

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
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.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


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.