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coverpic flag US - Kentucky - Full Moon 113 - 12/15/05

My Morning Jacket
Z
Ato Records

Let 'Alt-Country' be thrown in the closet full of shitty names that constitute pop rock - as with anything "alternative". Jim James and his band of reverb addicts make the Frankenstein pop record of the year, that pulls away from the roots-y jams of their breakaway smash 2003's It Still Moves. One can't help but compliment the smooth-hum space vibes of The Zombies mixed in with Achtung Baby vs. Odessy and Oracle adventurism and Harvest-era Neil Young-style song structures through Pearl Jam-style sessions. After tramping around electronics for years, MMJ make a Sgt Pepper of sorts that acts on a comfortable non-all-consuming ambition. In that case, "What a Wonderful Man" is the uplifting paralleled anecdote of "Getting Better" here, and the creepy circus ride of "Into the Woods" compliments the all-too-familiar three-beat organ pulsation of The Beatles' "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite".

However Z, is not an all-world experience, it is purely an American journey, where the earthy roots-country is counteracted by the digital age. Albums like OK Computer tackle such a present and future with caution, social panic, and neurosis, My Morning Jacket welcomes this with open arms, and an ignorance-is-bliss chiseled smile. With a title like Z one would expect a destructive, perhaps an apocalyptic album, where the letter Z is the English equivalent to the Greek omega, endlessly symbolic of the end of all things. Perhaps in a move of irony and cheeky humor, Z is contrarily as stable and delightful as an unassuming, trippy PBS puppet show...with Barney and Big Bird playing razor edge blues guitars, and Animal wreaking all hell on his drum kits. If all this is, this is the most delightful and ironic album about the destruction of all things ever made.

For its simplicity, one can sense of painstaking calculation. Sliding from the animation of U2 in the late 80s on their lead-off single, "Gideon", into the slide guitars and tranquilizing piano line of "Knot Comes Loose" is, after all, risky business - James and the gang realizes this. They move cautiously and quickly, keeping it all in an easy forty-plus minutes. How they find time to extend into some captivating and pulverizing improv breaks and still feel cut short by the thirteen seconds of noiseless audio concluding the final suite, "Dondante" is beyond me. That signature at the end of this charming essay, is a bit misleading (there's no empty-ness just annoyed confusion in that emptiness), but MMJ can get away with it.

In all intents and purposes, Z could've been too much and alienated us in a narcissistic trip to the moon. All the echoes, space tonics, and low-fi Bonham drumming of this disc take me back to Soft Bulletin, which in contrast is bloated and empty in the faux-psychedelic, wall-of-casio-synthesizer sound it toys around with. That album (sorry Flaming Lips fans) is a freak-show circus. This on the other hand, is a grand ol' opry, probably the grandest alt opry of 2005.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew DeMello e-mail address

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