My Morning Jacket, Circuital as reviewed in Phantom TollboothThe listening experience is both eclectic and electric with lyrics stark and revealing.


Artist: My Morning Jacket
Label: ATO Records / RED
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Duration: 10 tracks, 45:99

Again reinventing their sound, My Morning Jacket continues to surprise while keeping their offerings fresh and in the forefront of popular music. A leader in alternative rock and known for great life performances for well over a decade, MMJ continues to move ahead of the pack in musical innovation. Circuital was recorded live in a vacant church gymnasium in Louisville, Kentucky lending its sound to the soul searching darkness of their style. Produced by Grammy nominated Tucker Martine, producer of such bands as The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, and R.E.M., this offering sparkles with truth and honestly pulling deep emotions from the listener.

Out of the gate, Circuital is strong with “Victory Dance” which begins with prominent synth strings having a similar effect to Richard Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries”. This song leaves a bigger than life impression with lyrics of a spiritual tone hitting the human experience spot on. The song’s story begins with man’s questioning his nature, God’s direction, and ending with man’s hopeful nature:

Should I close my eyes and prophesize
Hoping maybe someday come?
Should I wet the ground with my own tears
Crying over what's been done?

Should I lift the dirt and plant the seed
Even though I’ve never grow?
Should I wet the ground with the sweat from my brow
And believe in my good work?
My good work, my good work, my good work

Hey there, I'm flying up above
Looking down on the tired earth
I can see, I can see potential
Speaking through you, speaking to you
From all of heaven's possibilities

Power, hey, do know how it works?
Hey, do you know that the meek
They shall inherit the earth?
You should work, you should work
Yeah for yourself and the family

Should I hit the water or stay on dry land
Even though I've never swam?
Take machete into the brush
Though at first there is no plan

Taste the war paint on my tongue
As it's dripping with my sweat
Place my gaze in the futures path
Seeing things that ain't come yet

Hope to watch the victory dance
After the day's work is done
Hope to watch the victory dance
In the evening's setting sun

Hope to watch the victory dance
Over many lives to come
Hope to watch the victory dance
In the evening's setting sun
Setting sun, setting sun, setting sun

Hope to dance the victory dance
After whole day's work is done
Hope to dance the victory dance
In the evening's setting sun

Hope to dance the victory dance
Over many lives to come
Hope to dance the victory dance
In the evening's setting sun, setting sun

“Circuital”, the album’s name sake, depicts the cyclic nature of effort ending where it started without change. The bass drum begins like a heartbeat leading into what could have been the perfect soundtrack for ‘Tron’. Solid acoustic rhythm guitar, well placed lead guitar and a great piano interlude echoes the song’s sentiment. The group’s leader, Jim James, voice is showcased in “The Day is Coming”, a bright, poppy song, telling the story of our consumption without regard to the environment or being good stewards of what has been given to us. The day is coming when each must answer for his life, will we answer the call to change while there is still time?

“Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” sounds like a colorful carnival tune with a country beat. “Outta My System” tells of a life’s troubles based on bad decisions. The anthemic, OO7-like soundtrack, “Holding On To Black Metal” is climbing the charts quickly becoming one of the great rockers of our time. It is easy to miss this song’s meaning of the nature of evil with its terrific orchestration and layered vocals.

While “First Light” is a rocker beginning with a harsh alarm of hammer banging on metal, “You Wanna Freak Out” is another carnival-like offering complete with a calliope sound in background. This could be a George Harrison reincarnation! Satire continues with “Slow Slow Tune” which indeed is a slow, slow tune. The album concludes with “Movin’ Away”, a mellow dramatic offering of changing relationships underlined by the refrain ‘A new life to create‘. The final song’s piano plays well with James’ vocals and an easy country-sounding slide guitar. Well written as the conclusion to this collection, this song closes with terrific piano.

A good satire will highlight a story’s truths. This is certainly true of Circuital’s lyrics. As with previous releases, there is a little rock, a little country, and a lot of musical experimentation. What makes Circuital stand out over MMJ’s past releases is the crispness of this offering. In perfect sequence and balance, here is found rockers, anthems, slow burners, and occasionally a song sounding much like a soon-to-be-popular soundtrack. The listening experience is both eclectic and electric with lyrics stark and revealing. The combination of the band’s highly personal output, musical intensity, and the occasional overly dramatic ending only adds to this being one to own. This collection holds together on its own and rocks with perpetual motion.


SS Mertens