Album Review

My Morning Jacket "Circuital"

Brian Ahnmark
After the creative wallop packed within 2005's Z and 2008's Evil Urges – a one-two combination of wild innovation and ecstatic performance that cemented My Morning Jacket as one of rock music's premier forces – anticipation ran rampant as work commenced on a follow-up.

Honestly, where do you go after “Highly Suspicious”?

But with Circuital, the Kentucky band's sixth studio effort, My Morning Jacket has delivered the biggest surprise of all: A dull disappointment.

Opener “Victory Dance” is hypnotic but ultimately sterile; compare to the title track from Evil Urges, a breathtaking tangle of guitars and falsetto. Second track “Circuital” deceptively sets the table for greatness, a fully developed and realized My Morning Jacket classic. Jim James' inimitable tenor glides atop wholesome chords, with lead guitarist Carl Broemel punctuating breaks with violent solos.

But it's uneven from there. “The Day Is Coming” evokes Seal's “Kiss from a Rose” (seriously) and lacks any memorable punch; “Outta My System” plods along like an unfinished demo, unaided by its dopey message (Chalk it up to youth, but young age I ain't dissin' / I guess I just had to get it out of my system). “First Light” is pure filler with an unimaginative chord progression – and gentlemen, where are the guitars? In most cases, buried beneath Bo Koster’s fuzzy keyboards.

But a special tip of the cap is reserved for “Holdin on to Black Metal,” a grating and flat-out ghastly creation. Its lumbering one-part riff was apparently borrowed from a Thai pop song, so at least the band isn't entirely to blame for this dud. It’s evidently an attempt to appeal to sentimentality; Wilco pulled it off infinitely better with “Heavy Metal Drummer” ten years ago.

In a twist for My Morning Jacket, the album's few highlights are quiet moments. “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” is an aching blend of melody and message, even if the sentiment is nicked from “Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pts. 1 & 2” from Evil Urges. “Slow Slow Tune” has a shimmering bridge with a hushed James falsetto and just a finger-tap of guitar; “Movin' Away” is a wistful piano ballad about leaving a town, balanced by James' optimistic lyric: “I hope your heart will be where my home is.”

The man is a capable wordsmith, although in the past James has been prone to the occasional goofball moment. On Circuital, he finally goes overboard. “You wanna freak out? Come on!” goes the chorus to “You Wanna Freak Out,” ruining an otherwise pleasant Goo Goo Dolls-ish waltz. “The Day Is Coming” similarly fizzles with the following refrain: “The day is coming / The day is near / The day is coming / You know what I mean.”

Ultimately, Circuital feels like a waste of talent. For the first time in a consistently satisfying career, James' songwriting lacks inspiration; the rhythm section of Tom Blankenship (bass) and Patrick Hallahan (drums) is criminally underused; Broemel and James never even hint at the firebomb double-guitar attack that is the meat & potatoes of My Morning Jacket.

It'll be a long wait for a rebound record.