Posted on May 4th, 2015 (3:00 pm) by N. Neal Paradise

For 16 years now, monster indie rock band My Morning Jacket has been a big guitar band that loved the campfire singalong, a bunch of good-ole country boys from Kentucky who couldn’t resist cranking it to 11. Lead singer and driving force Jim James is a juggernaut on stage and a shy, unassuming aw-shucks kind of guy off it. He’s a seeker, relentlessly pursuing God in the ethos and philosophy of idol George Harrison. James’ 2013 solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God saw him free from the constraints that a rock band puts on him, but The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket’s 7th studio album, proves to him and everyone who hears it that those constraints aren’t even real. It exemplifies the pat phrase, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

The greatest thing about The Waterfall (and there are many) is how it reminds the listener of all past MMJ records while simultaneously heading full-steam in a new direction. It’s a beautiful confirmation that a band can expand, explore and expound while still remaining who they are, deep inside, at their core. The cover art is where we start, and it looks like a reversal of their first album, The Tennessee Fire; that album featured a city scene, as if looking off a balcony of a high-rise hotel at 3am with blurry eyes. The Waterfall’s cover art is a vivid nature scene, the titular waterfall’s scintillating colors seeming to pop with wild vivacity. Full circle yet quite a switch, no?

At Dawn was centered on a sense of wonder at the glories of the world and its people, like Miranda from “The Tempest” falling in love with the outside world. The Waterfall contains the same fascination with simple things, but focuses differently. While At Dawn called the listener to be present in this fantastic world, The Waterfall feels called to an even higher existence. The track “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” talks of tapping into a power that is so elemental, so tied to this earth, yet transcending the human experience.

It Still Moves, along with the previous two albums, was bloated with many lazy, slow-moving tunes that nonetheless reminded us that rock and roll doesn’t need to be in such a hurry. The Waterfall, particularly the tracks “Like a River” and closer “Only Memories Remain” are similarly expansive, but don’t get bogged down in their own slow timing. Likewise, It Still Moves’ greatest asset was that it featured the first real MMJ screamers (“One Big Holiday,” “Run Thru”). Z continued this trend even stronger with “What a Wonderful Man,” “Anytime” and “Off the Record.” The Waterfall, too, doesn’t let us forget that MMJ is still a rock band, retaining the rollicking tone of It Still Moves and Z in highlights like “Spring (Among the Living)” and “Tropics (Erase Traces).” In addition, both The Waterfall and It Still Moves contain a beating heart in the bittersweet love songs “Get the Point” and “Golden,” respectively. Both songs coax tears from your eyes in almost the same exact way.

The Waterfall bears the most sonic similarities to 2011’s Circuital. The journeyman mentality and spirit of musical exploration that is front and center on The Waterfall really starts on Circuital, though it’s more subtle. The victory of “First Light” is present in first single “Big Decisions,” and both albums are concerned with feeling all the emotions on the spectrum: joy, pain, confusion, anger, even horniness.

Then there’s Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket’s most popular and most unbalanced record. MMJ has clearly learned from this experience, too, crafting The Waterfall to a degree that seems to repudiate the messy lack of continuity that Evil Urges embodied. The longest song from each album comes last, but while “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” left us hanging despite trying its hardest to bring Evil Urges to a close, “Only Memories Remain” has a sense of completion to it, like nothing more need be said by the band, ever.

Not to worry, folks. While The Waterfall may seem like MMJ’s ultimate statement leaving nothing out, there are already assurances of another album in 2016. The Waterfall and its follow-up were actually recorded together, though James has made it clear that there was never any intention of making them a double album.

While it’s clear that My Morning Jacket has made one of the best albums of the year here, what’s even bigger is that The Waterfall stands as the exemplar of each of the albums. The takeaway from that: My Morning Jacket may very well be one of the best bands of the new millennium.

Track List

  1. Believe (Nobody Knows)
  2. Compound Fracture
  3. Like a River
  4. In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)
  5. Get the Point
  6. Spring (Among the Living)
  7. Thin Line
  8. Big Decisions
  9. Tropics (Erase Traces)
  10. Only Memories Remain
My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

89 / 100
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