My Morning Jacket
Ever since MMJ's explosive breakthrough album It Still Moves all those years ago in '03 they have been favourably compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and, bizarre as it may seem given the company, Radiohead. Fourth time round they have new members (keyboardist Bo Koster and guitarist Carl Broemel) and a new knob-twiddling connoisseur in the shape of Radiohead and Stone Roses producer John Leckie, who joins singer Jim James. The result is a jauntier and radically diverse album which dabbles in every genre from reggae to ambient to crotch-grabbing, stomping southern rock, even occasionally dipping its toe in psychedelic mythology.
Opening track Wordless Chorus scrabbles into action in a typically Leckie fashion, and claws its way through a series of warbles and murmurs that Prince would be proud of. It is a perfect opener and gives a scintillating hint at what is to come without, as promised in the title, using anything other than sound to tease and communicate. This leads the listener into a beautifully trippy declaration of love in It Beats For You, and the spiritual, slapdash, stomping What A Wonderful Man. Single Off The Record is a stroke of experimental genius, with pounding reggae rhythms and feral, lurching vocals interwoven with infectious stoner riffs. Into The Woods signals a slight detour from the first half of the album as the listener is led into a folkier, dreamier and altogether weirder side of MMJ. It meanders and dawdles and riddles, with Jim James singing of burning kittens and blended babies, but just as our brains start to feel a little lost and anxious we are brought straight back to the raw southern reality that is MMJ with Anytime, which throbs and pounds and empowers. After another unrefined dual guitar jam in Lay Low, MMJ once again slow down to an amble in the lazy campfire strumming of Knot Comes Loose before finally rocking out in a blaze of glory with the atmospheric and heart wrenching Dondante.
As a whole Z lurches and staggers about like a cider-fuelled student on a Saturday night, never being satisfied to rest or concentrate or streamline, and leaves the listener feeling breathless, exhausted and slightly abused. On its first listen I was left with a sense of utter bafflement, but as I sat scratching my head on the second time round my doubt began to dissolve and by the third time, I was in love with the madness and unpredictability. Z is a funky, rocking, soulful, spiritual and mystically folky masterpiece which questions and answers the listener and itself all at the same time.
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