An album to be tapped when you get auxiliary cable privileges in the car, My Morning Jacket’s ninth studio LP (out today, October 22nd) is both sonically varied and lyrically rich. Recorded just before the pandemic, this self-titled album from the seasoned Louisville rockers marks their first album of entirely new material in six years. My Morning Jacket is the blissful-yet-energetic output of several secluded weeks at L.A.’s 64 Sound studio in November 2019. “We’ve realized that the addition of any one person changes the vibe, so it was just us in the studio the whole time,” said Jim James, who produced and engineered My Morning Jacket. “I told everybody to just bring whatever felt comfortable to them, to avoid getting caught up in trying out 80 different amps or 4,000 pedals before we cut a song. I just wanted us to have fun and not get too precious about it.” After a fruitful first session, according to the album bio, MMJ returned in February to complete the initial recording just a day before the world went into lockdown. “Coming out of those sessions was so illuminating,” recalled drummer Patrick Hallahan. “It shined a light on the special energy that happens when it’s just the five of us in a room together. It felt like we’d built a fort and we were all playing around in it.” The LP’s eleven body-grooving tracks prompt introspection in all the best ways. MMJ themselves portray the distracted materialism and “screen time addiction” of first single and opener “Regularly Scheduled Programming” in its clever music video. One revelation upon seeing the official lyrics is that James is not declaring, “I’ve had enough,” but is instead asking the listener, “Ahhh – haaaa – had enough? Had enough? Had enough?”
“This song really hits home for me after what we’ve gone through with the pandemic,” said James. “But even before then, it felt like so many of us were trading real life for social media, trading our own stories for the storylines on TV, trading our consciousness for drugs. We need to help each other wake up to real love before it’s too late.” “Love Love Love” was one of the live debuts MMJ gave to Forest Hills Stadium, a bubbly motivator with tips like “Well there ain’t no time like now / Just step outside the door, that’s all.” The rhythm section goodness of Patrick Hallahan and Tom Blankenship sticks in your head as much as James’ jaunty delivery. “That one’s trying to steer the ship away from everything I’m talking about in ‘Regularly Scheduled Programming’ and speak toward positivity and pure love,” explained James, “finding truth within yourself and in the world around you.” Subsequent stunner “In Color” was the other live debut that MMJ brought to Queens, and it’s a big moment both live and in the studio. We dare you to hit play without an emotional response. While they have everyone rocking, of course, MMJ run with this chance to instill an essential message. As James noted in the album bio,“‘In Color’ is just a simple statement of wishing everyone could agree that difference is what makes life beautiful, and that things look better with all of us here: every shade of the rainbow, every gender and race and sexual orientation. If you deny that, you’re missing out on one of the greatest joys in life: the wonders of what people can give to each other.”
“Least Expected” – a song about receiving love in the most unforeseen moment – has a well-traveled rhythmic trippiness. It’s strong enough to work as an instrumental track, but as always, James goes deep in the lyrics. Dreamscapes will surely be shaped by his musings: “Into the universe – the earth holds the key. / A divine drug – the dirt that grows the tree / We live in its shade…and in the love we make…” Up next, the downtempo-yet-lively “Never In The Real World” demands repetition. Even upon first listen it fits like a worn cotton tee with its easygoing sound. Normal human awkwardness – “Never in the morning / Never in the light of day / Did I ever ever ever / know what the right thing was to say” – is relayed with relatable remedies: “Only after midnight / Only in a trance / Head all full of spirit / stumblin’ when I dance.” On the flip side, “The Devil’s in the Details,” running over nine minutes, creates a lonely suburban atmosphere. “Going to Sephora to find a different face / with enough paint I’ll disappear without a trace.” It’s not somber in a way that makes it a skipper; it’s a nostalgic ache that draws you in, like a popsicle melting on the sidewalk. “That song came from thinking about being an adolescent and growing up at the mall,” said James. “It’s like this strange in-between place for when you can’t quite be part of the world yet – and on top of that there’s the horror of the mall and how much of what’s sold there is made through slave labor. I wrote that song so that nothing gets resolved; I wanted to leave the listener with an unsettled feeling.”
With nice action from keyboardist Bo Koster, “Lucky To Be Alive” is another catchy one that we remembered from Forest Hills. The poignant first verse hit harder on the second listen. Bringing a solo-Yim “State of the Art – A.E.I.O.U.” mood, James cheerfully comments on the challenges of the music industry. “Technology came and stole my living again – / Ain’t nobody buying records no more. / Well they cut off all the bread that used to keep us fed so – / Thanks for coming to the show!” Heightening the cool album’s intensity, “Complex” is an epic highlight that we’re hungry to see live, especially given Carl Broemel’s exciting guitar work. We really don’t throw this around, but we feel James’ delivery of its snappy chorus, “Hey – you get what you pay for! Hey – what are you waiting for?” would make the Fab Four proud. A mysterious Pt. 2 that begs for a Pt. 1, “Out Of Range, Pt. 2” hearkens back to 2001 MMJ. There’s a possible “Phone Went West” nod with the line, “Stepping towards the door… / Standing open…but not for long.” Right then, James seems to mention that very record, At Dawn. “Reaching…for the dawn / of an era… that’s just begun.” We love the slowed-down distorted ending as much as the build before it. “In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m a puzzle piece that won’t fit,” said Jim James. “There’s so much in life that I can’t figure out, like how to make a relationship work or how to make a career work in a way I feel fully satisfied with. ‘Complex’ is sort of me asking, ‘What am I missing here?’”
The penultimate “Penny For Your Thoughts” has an uplifting progression that brings attention to its generous words. “Just a penny just a drop in the cup… / another dime another dollar-it all adds up. / give it freely – as if tomorrow might never come. / make a wish….heads up. heads up…” Album closer “I Never Could Get Enough” talks about longing “for your sweet, sweet lover’s touch” and feels just as rewarding. “At the end of each night comes the day. / And when I awake… / Oh how much I want you!” Tom Blankenship shared, “I’m really proud of that one. I love that it’s a little slow and moody and lets you get lost in it. It’s like the song’s not demanding you to be involved the whole time – you can just let it play and go off into your own world for a while.” Similarly relaxed was the environment in which the record came to life, as Patrick Hallahan explained. “Everyone in the room was willing to let the songs come together naturally, which I think allowed for a lot of exploration. This is what it sounds like when we get out of the way and let the music go where it wants.” On My Morning Jacket, Jim James remarked, “I hope this album brings people a lot of joy and relief, especially since we’ve all been cooped up for so long. I know that feeling you get from driving around blasting music you love, or even lying in bed and crying to the music you love. The fact that we’re able to be a part of people’s lives in that way is so magical to us, and it feels really good that we’re still around to keep doing that.” We love this band so we’re very pleased to report that My Morning Jacket belongs on that top shelf at your local record store. Go ahead and slide a few copies up there if it’s missing for some reason.
Article: Olivia Isenhart