My Morning Jacket has always stuck to their Kentucky roots. Despite decades of stylistic and aesthetic meanderings—a sonic journey that has included sounds of psychedelia, funk, and stadium-ready jam rock—at their best, MMJ has embraced the hard-working, everyman spirit of alt-country.
Above everything, however, there’s always been an element of mystique surrounding My Morning Jacket—an unpredictability that is fully realized on The Waterfall, the Louisville band’s seventh LP. At its core, the album is classic MMJ, fusing heartland Americana and indie folk with genre-defying surprises. But while some moments of experimentation have been victims of their own ambition in the past, The Waterfall is an exercise in subtly and sincerity. It is MMJ’s strongest, most cohesive album since 2005’s Z.
As frontman Jim James told Rolling Stone, the album’s title is a nod to life’s ability to beat us down. And while The Waterfall is MMJ’s take on the break-up album, the title is also a fitting description of the album’s musical ambitions. Much like Z, the songs are individual landscapes and pay a respect to the natural world. “And as it runs, it feels it’s form/The waterfall, can it be stopped?” asks Jim James in “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall). The track melds classic, careening MMJ guitars with understated 70s soft-rock emotional power, as it alludes to the unpredictability power of nature—manifested in both human relationships and literal landscapes.
The band was recently in Colorado for a performance at Red Rocks. Click here for our My Morning Jacket Red Rocks coverage.
Catharsis is an underlying theme throughout much The Waterfall, and the album features some of James’ strongest lyrical efforts in years. The smooth 70s-inspired soul of “Thin Line” is juxtaposed by James’ anxiety of “Lovin’ and wastin’ my time.” The single “Big Decisions” further illustrates his very real ruminations, as he exclaims, “I don’t quite feel like faking it again tonight.” But for James, helplessness is only momentary. “Spring (Among the Living),” muses on lost love, but also hints at regeneration with its extensive patchwork of a guitar solos and earnest, observational lyrics.
On their last records, MMJ often relied on sonic subterfuge to win audiences. But with The Waterfall, James’ pragmatic ponderings provide an authenticity that justifies such heady experimentation. In the band’s almost 20 years of existence, they’ve progressed from hometown heroes to major festival headliners. And it’s albums like The Waterfall that will appeal to both ends of the spectrum.