Release Date: May 4, 2015
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop, Dream Pop, Neo-Psychedelia, Alternative Country-Rock
Jim James is rock music's leading mystic. For years, his lyrics have explored big philosophical questions, and contain frequent mentions of spiritual concepts. It follows, then, that the My Morning Jacket frontman is an expert at meditation; nobody would be surprised if the dude could teach a class on it. The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket's first album in four years, sounds as if the whole band retreated to an isolated meadow back in 2011 and has been meditating until now: it's clear, confident, and focused.
You can apply the well-worn cliché about weather in certain cities to My Morning Jacket’s sound … i.e., if you don’t like it now, just wait a few minutes. Despite, or perhaps because of, the veteran Louisville band’s impulses to shape shift, they have amassed a dedicated fan base that relishes the group’s knack for changing while maintaining their distinctive approach. It helps having a riveting lead singer like Jim James, unafraid to morph into a Prince-influenced falsetto or a tougher rock attack.
Given the unexpected (and occasionally jarring) twists and turns on My Morning Jacket's last two records, their latest offering feels restrained and understated throughout, but it's also more, immediate, more alive than anything they have done before. They come out swinging with "Believe (Nobody Knows)," complete with a classic Jim James vocal crescendo to please any fans longing for the days of At Dawn. But it's far from business as usual for the band; instead of taking us on a jarring tour through disparate genres a la Evil Urges, we get a definitive statement that acts as a distillation of everything the band does best.
There’s a warm glow about The Waterfall that was missing from Circuital, My Morning Jacket’s last album, in 2011. Bandleader Jim James and co-producer Tucker Martine have created a big canvas for MMJ’s sun-blushed country rock, but have avoided any note of pomposity. The Kentucky band’s tendency towards stadium-friendliness, evinced by the imploring Believe (Nobody Knows), is offset by moments of moving intimacy, such as Like a River, a haunting response to Stinson beach, the Californian beauty spot in which the album was recorded.
The output of Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket has always charted the group’s progression. Their sound is uniquely traceable from their influences but, nevertheless, unmistakeable. Its incarnation on their seventh album sounds optimistic – perhaps from a slicker period in music – lodged somewhere around the 80s but with lyrics that hint at a recent emergence from darkness.
Ever since they first appeared around the turn of the century, My Morning Jacket have hung their hats on the lungs of Jim James. His huge voice, ably supported by levels of reverb only attainable in top secret government wind tunnels, was the essence that MMJ built their sound around, starting with enigmatic alt-country sketches before veering into classic Southern rock, radio-friendly funk and mid-tempo balladeering. But recently, that voice has spent more time in other pastures, with James seeming to prefer either his own company (his debut solo LP came out in 2013) or hanging with like-minded others, turning up on any number of other albums as a backing vocalist or playing a central role in projects such as the ‘new’ Basement Tapes Lost On The River.
"I'm getting so tired of trying to always be nice," Jim James laments on "Big Decisions", the first single from My Morning Jacket's seventh LP The Waterfall. It's a surprising line from James, a guy responsible for a nearly weeklong music festival in Mexico named One Big Holiday. If there was a mean bone in his body, we haven't seen it before—My Morning Jacket lyrics are mostly praise and posi-vibes, feeling wonderful about a wonderful higher power for giving wonderful men the most wonderful voices.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There's always an air of poise and unease amongst fans when My Morning Jacket announce the release of a new album. The Kentucky group are serial nomads, vacating the ground they've conquered before everybody has had a chance to notice the flag which has been hoisted. By the time that the likes of Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses were attracting critical acclaim and chart success for a reverb-heavy sound based on that of My Morning Jacket's first few records, the group had evolved.
My Morning Jacket records are tinged with alt country’s spirit even when they aren’t entirely indebted to its tone. There’s always been a folksy, small-town feel to the music and the methods, recording albums in a grain silo and a church gym a decade apart. It’s in the DNA; the Louisville band’s 1999 debut, The Tennessee Fire, was indie covering country rock.
Blessed be the band or film that forges a distinct culture amongst its fans. Phrases, dates, and places gain their own special significance and meaning amongst Beatlemaniacs, Potterheads, Trekkies, Achievers, and Little Monsters. William Shatner may have told a room full of Trekkies to “get a life”, but at least the impassioned are enthusiastic about something, even if they are often characterized as obsessed, deviant, and hysterical.
Although they’ve never quite garnered the widespread attention and acclaim of contemporaries like Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, over the past decade and a half Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket have quietly put together a body of work that warrants them a place in the highest echelons of modern American independent music. Ever since their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire, the band have expertly blended folk, country and space rock into a heady brew of Southern gothic capable of concocting both sublime beauty and oppressive drama in equal measure. 2011’s Circuital was up there with their best work and now Jim James and company are back again with The Waterfall, which maintains their high standards.
Review Summary: No climbing over the railing.The Waterfall is a gorgeous record, but rarely is it a gripping one. Like the bucolic landscape its cover suggests, My Morning Jacket’s seventh record sounds rustic and lived in, its parts taking liberally from all the peaks and valleys of the band’s discography and coming away with a fitting snapshot of where the band is today. Frontman and force of nature Jim James has said in the publicity tour leading up to this record that the past few years have left him spent, injured, and generally more than cognizable of the fact that middle age is inching uncomfortably close for a man with a penchant for hard touring and detonating relationships.
My Morning Jacket are contrarians: Southern rockers who have no truck with Nashville, jam-nation heroes who don't really jam, classic-rock acolytes with indie-rock sensibilities. It's made them a genre of one, and a band that can tap the past without sounding like throwbacks. The Waterfall is their latest case in point — a fusion of synth-wrapped Eighties pop, prog-rock and Philly soul that still connects like a heady MMJ record.
My Morning Jacket's eclecticism has long been one of their strong suits, but their sonic wanderlust seems to fail them a bit on their seventh studio album, The Waterfall. Jim James and his bandmates have followed a lot of different stylistic paths since they made their debut at the end of the '90s, and the polished, prog-laced classic rock sound of "Believe (Nobody Knows)" and the sleek mix of soft rock and Euro-disco on "Compound Fracture" are both effective and sterling examples of stuff MMJ couldn't have pulled off in their early days. But after a promising start, the band seems to slip into something of a rut, and The Waterfall quickly loses focus and runs short of energy, the latter being this set's crippling flaw.
Once noted for their space-rock jams, Kentucky five-piece My Morning Jacket have branched out in recent years, embracing 1980s funk and AOR to the chagrin of many longtime fans. The Waterfall, the first of two MMJ albums scheduled for release in the next 12 months or so, contains traces of their old expansive sound, though elastic soul and soft rock dominate. The first few tracks, particularly the Prince-like Compound Fracture, are endearingly spacious and snake-hipped, but The Waterfall’s lacklustre second half indicates they’ve lost touch with the band they once were.
Having spent seventeen years together now, My Morning Jacket grew prominent in the genre-moulding ‘indie rock’ bracket that took over the US in the early to mid-2000s. Now releasing their seventh record, MMJ have returned as a group with the inevitable challenge of remaining relevant. It’s evident the primary influence of ‘The Waterfall’ is the location of which they recorded.
Ever since their breakthrough in 2003 with It Still Moves, My Morning Jacket has seemingly made a concerted effort to run as far away as possible from the tangle of meaty classic-rock guitars and shouted-to-the-rafters hooks that made that album, and their live shows, seem so monolithic. While the band's commitment to bucking expectations is certainly commendable, the specific ways in which they've expanded their musical palette have been more successful (2005's electronic-tinged Z) than others (2008's all-over-the-place Evil Urges). That trend continues on the band's seventh album, The Waterfall, where their forays into synth-heavy late-'70s/early-'80s prog and arena rock are alternately inventive and bafflingly blockheaded.
opinion by AUSTIN REED Over the span of his career, Jim James has cultivated a reputation that suggests he always has something to hide. We want to believe this isn’t a big deal. Because it’s rare when you discover a soul like James'. One that seems to always be at odds with itself, even when sometimes, it’s over something stupid like who broke the Blu-Ray player.
The hum of an everyday mysticism has always been part of the deal for My Morning Jacket, but it resonates louder than usual on “The Waterfall.” Don’t mistake it for a problem. All those lyrics about openness, about flow, about mind-body dualism — they suit this band perfectly, along with cavernous reverb and heavy-foot midrange tempos. That much becomes clear on the album’s curtain-raiser, “Believe (Nobody Knows),” whose title effectively spoils the plot.
“Believe!”, commands the opening track of The Waterfall. Which is kind of appropriate, as self-belief is the quality My Morning Jacket‘s seventh album has in abundance. The Louisville, Kentucky five-piece have never made a bad record, but the last two (2008’s Evil Urges and 2011’s Circuital, the former’s unfocused gallop through genres both suggesting an identity crisis and slowing down the lift-up initiated by 2005’s masterful Z and 2006’s steaming live double and film Okonokos) found them struggling to completely convince; these ten tracks mark a decisive return to the band’s eccentric, uniquely warm and fuzzy top form.
As Jim James chants the title of "Believe (Nobody Knows)" to a swollen close in leading off his Kentucky quintet's seventh studio album, it's as much a declaration of intent as of faith. Anthemic and sweeping, the opener serves as proper invocation to the Church of MMJ, and following the reset of 2011's Circuital and an intervening solo foray by James, the band achieves a new level of sophistication. Waterfall explores without veering off track – soulful rocker "Compound Fracture," slippery psychedelic "In Its Infancy (the Waterfall)" – but the frontman couples his spiritual grandeur with the intimacy of a relationship.
Jim James has become an unashamed sentimentalist. On My Morning Jacket’s 2005 major-label release, Z, the band’s frontman reared his thoughts upward with a spiritual tilt, molding them around godly references. Now, his focus is inward, musing on beliefs that pray for self-realization. As he sings to open The Waterfall, MMJ’s seventh album, “Roll the dice, set sail the ship, and all the doors will open.” Part bravado, part confessional, part purifying, The Waterfall is as open as oblivion, empathy, love, and misery.
My Morning Jacket never fails to push boundaries, and singer Jim James and company push them further than ever on the most serious, progressive LP yet. The Kentucky act derives fresh inspiration from recording at Panoramic House, a studio that overlooks majestic Stinson Beach outside San Francisco. That might explain the intriguing number of cosmic-psychedelic, nature-driven songs, notably the densely electronic “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” and the Pink Floyd-ish “Tropics (Erase Traces).’’ James’s haunting voice is still in full sway, but he also presents a tougher front after a romantic breakup.