My Morning Jacket – Circuital (ATO)
As the years passed, I still kept an eye on My Morning Jacket. Like you would keep an eye on an ex-girlfriend, kind of seeing what they’re up to, feeling a twinge of nostalgia now and again. When I’d get scheduled to work with a hippie at the coffee shop, I’d pull out my old copy of At Dawn and we’d usually find a little bit of common ground to get us through the shift. Each time a new album came out, I’d give a little listen on the internet, and I’d always come away disappointed. MMJ continued to take their spacey rural sadness into other, more refined places. Not that I blamed them.
With each new album, critics have fallen over themselves to proclaim My Morning Jacket “The American Radiohead”, which is accurate in the sense that it’s been well over a decade since either band made an album I could tolerate. Now comes their latest album, Circuital. It’s being marketed as a ‘return to their roots’. Even the title suggests a sort of reconnection. Maybe it’s time for MMJ and I to patch things up. Or at least get together for a cup of coffee.
We met in the early afternoon. MMJ looked good for their age. I mentioned that when I’d first seen them back in 2003, I joked to a friend, ‘What’s the deal with their beards?’ Little did I know that within a few years, beards would be pretty much standard indie-rock fashion. We laughed. Things were going well. Caught up in a flood of memories, warm nostalgia from my misremembering brain, I tried to find ways to like the new album.
But instead I just sat there floundering. The rumors that the band had made an album ‘like the old days’, turned out to be empty hype. I guess you can make the case that Circuital is slightly less over-produced than Evil Urges or Z, but we’re still a long way from the grain silo they used to record in. A few of the songs are decent, the Ramones-on-ketamine ‘Outta My System’ is a good place to start if you’re interested. MMJ isn’t too big on music videos, which is kind of interesting in one sense, but also not really interesting at all. So you can just look at the cool album cover.
It isn’t putrid (except for a few moments — ‘Holding On To Black Metal,’ with its children’s chorus, I’m looking at you right now). But there isn’t any sense of urgency I can feel. If At Dawn sounded like — or more specifically to me, felt like — it was written in blood, Circuital feels like it was written in runny gray watercolors. Rather than stemming from some need, the album feels more like an obligation fulfilled, a mandatory greeting card sent on your birthday.
People change, they evolve. And so do bands. It would be unfair to expect them to stay the same forever. As Kylie Minogue once said, “The only constant in life is change”. It’s hard enough to connect once in this lifetime — with a band, with a partner, with a friend. It’s even harder to maintain that connection over a period of years. Eight years ago I needed what My Morning Jacket had to offer, needed it desperately. Now I’m a little less needy and they’re a little more distant. When MMJ got up to leave, I sat at the table for a while, not wanting to awkwardly bump into them out on the sidewalk. I was glad to see they were doing well, but I was a great deal happier to know I wouldn’t be seeing them again.
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