Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Album Review :: My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

2005’s Z gained My Morning Jacket indie super-cred with its experimental style, spacey synth and spiritual tone. After four reverb loaded albums, My Morning Jacket has reinvented themselves with something that sounds more like rock and folk from the sixties and seventies. This ain’t your hipster daddy’s My Morning Jacket.

The cover art immediately contrasts Evil Urges from the previous releases. Instead of surreal and silly surgical birds or crystallized bears, the dark figure surrounded by an opera house and clocklike patterns gives a kind of dark, big brother, martial law tone and its sound is harsher as well. The album takes on the ambitious task of weighing moral ambiguity and trying to portray the subjectivity of good and evil with lines like, “What is it inside our heads that makes us do the opposite of what’s right for us?” from "Librarian".

Evil Urges plays to a slightly different audience as the abstraction and absurdity that made their previous efforts so appealing is less of a focus. The reverb and synth isn’t as prevalent and singer Jim James’ smooth whimsical falsetto has morphed into cruel, shrill, high harmonies. The album is more earthbound than ethereal, with fewer jam sessions and a lot more solos.

The band said that they were trying to emulate live performances and the mood is drastically different. Instead of being set in a long winding tunnel, it sounds like it's set on the stages of Bonnaroo or Coachella. With this direction and the following they’ve maintained, My Morning Jacket is likely to become a festival classic among the ranks of Phish and Dave Matthew’s Band.

Some songs on the album have gone through a time warp from decades ago. "I’m Amazed" feels like Aerosmith, "Sec’ Walking" channels James Taylor and “Aluminum Park" would make The Rolling Stones proud. Each song has a distinct twist that keeps it cohesive with the rest of the album.

The standout track is "Librarian" as one of the band’s few narrative songs. It is a story about a young man’s lusty affair with a librarian, very reminiscent of the tale of Mrs. Robinson, except without that whole adultery thing. The song has a Simon and Garfunkel feel with twinkling acoustic and sweet vocals. Meandering through social commentary are lyrics like, “Ramble up the stairwell to the hall of books. Since we got the interweb these hardly get used” and “when God made mirrors he had no idea.” It also makes reference to Karen Carpenter of the seventies band, The Carpenters, who died of complications with anorexia.

The vocals on ‘Smokin’ from Shootin’’ have a very Beatles-esque type of reverb. It opens with a gurgle in the back of James’ throat and a bass line that sounds like the pattering of feet, perhaps running away from said smoking gun. It progresses into a clash of slow crashing metallic riffs and a wailing slide guitar.

The album is bookended by songs that sound uniquely My Morning Jacket. Evil Urges slinks along to James’ ridiculous and irresistible falsetto. "Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part I" is a provoking love song about forced sex and bondage, but reversed, about a victim who is going to scream if he isn’t touched.

Touch Me Part II has a techno beat, ethereal electronic blips and repetitive piano chords that makes it feel like it is set in a club, before the screaming incident. The song leads to the end of the album as the piano and bass’ tempo slowly decreases for almost a full two minutes. My Morning Jacket won’t let the album just fade away, as ‘Good Intentions’ finally delivers this scream that the listener has been hearing so much about.

Mango Nebula favorite from this artist:
My Morning Jacket - Z

~Lee Stepien
Published at WERS.org on June 10, 2008

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