By Ali Green
Ever since My Morning Jacket fans finished memorizing 2008’s hard rocking Evil Urges, they’ve anxiously awaited the group’s sixth studio release, Circuital. Those long-time MMJ followers won’t be disappointed. In many ways, this album brings the band back to where it all began, literally and sonically speaking. Lead singer Jim James commented on the title track: “On that song I sing about ending up in the same place where you started out. And that makes a lot of sense for this album…I hate the phrase ‘going back to our roots,’ but for this record we came home…”
It wasn’t enough to go home to Kentucky for this record. A band like MMJ can’t just go backwards, they have to break new ground. With the help of producer Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, R.E.M.), they converted a church gymnasium into a live recording space. From that moment on, James knew he had found a unique match in Martine: “As a group, we’ve always been hoping to find ‘our guy’…Tucker fit in perfectly, and he had a whole set of skills we didn’t possess.” Turning a gym into a makeshift recording studio was one of those skills.
MMJ headlined the 2008 Bonnaroo Music Festival, a high-pressure gig for any band, but the group took the challenge head-on, and their four-hour set turned me into an instant fan. Listening to Circuital brought me back to that cool night in Tennessee, so I was thrilled and not at all surprised that the group recorded this release almost entirely live. This isn’t a huge stretch for the road-tested MMJ, who are accustomed to delivering flawless live shows, and that one quality makes this record undeniably special. James put it best: “We’re a band, and so I want our records to be made that way, with us being a band. Capturing…that intangible thing between us, some kind of soul.” True soul was recorded to tape in what can best be described as a band bonding session.
An eclectic mix of tunes, Circuital brings together the band’s earlier work with their harder-edged later material. “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” begins with a chorus of ladies and funky horn arrangements, making the track instantly stand out as something new for the band, while tight-stringed guitar work ties it to the album as a whole. “You Wanna Freak Out” starts out like a Beatles ballad but then crunchy guitar parts and crisp keyboards take the song to a new place—so much so, you forget how it all began. The grab-you-from-the-start opener transitions between slower and faster tunes in this perfectly-paced composition. Don’t miss it.