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MY MORNING JACKET
Widely ranked among the greatest live bands of their generation, My Morning Jacket have long maintained their status as one of the most vital forces in American rock-and-roll. With their thrillingly expansive and eclectic sound, the Louisville-bred band has influenced an entire era of musicians, largely by staying one step ahead of mainstream pop culture and following their instincts to endless innovation. On their long-awaited new full-length—a self-titled body of work that marks their ninth studio album—My Morning Jacket reaffirm the rarefied magic that’s made them so beloved, embedding every song with moments of discovery, revelation, and ecstatic catharsis.
Their first new music since 2015’s Grammy Award-nominated The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket came to life after a nearly permanent hiatus for the band (vocalist/guitar Jim James, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, guitarist Carl Broemel, and keyboardist Bo Koster). “We didn’t know if we’d make another record again,” James admits. “For a long time I was feeling burnt-out, and unsure if I wanted to do this anymore.” During that hiatus, James and Broemel each released a series of acclaimed solo projects, while Koster toured the world as part of Roger Waters’ band and all members except James played in Ray LaMontagne’s band. But after performing four shows in summer 2019 (beginning with two mind-blowing nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre), My Morning Jacket was overcome with the urge to carry on. “It’d been so long since we’d played together, there was that question of ‘Is this maybe going to be a wake-up call that it’s time for us to move on?’” Blankenship recalls. “But then as soon as we got onstage, it felt like coming home.”
That November, My Morning Jacket headed to Los Angeles studio 64 Sound and spent several weeks working on new songs in intentional seclusion. “We’ve realized that the addition of any one person changes the vibe, so it was just us in the studio the whole time,” says James, who produced and engineered My Morning Jacket. “I told everybody to just bring whatever felt comfortable to them, to avoid getting caught up in trying out 80 different amps or 4,000 pedals before we cut a song. I just wanted us to have fun and not get too precious about it.” With that first session yielding a bounty of new material, the band returned to 64 Sound the following February and completed the initial recording just a day before the world went into lockdown. “Coming out of those sessions was so illuminating,” says Hallahan. “It shined a light on the special energy that happens when it’s just the five of us in a room together. It felt like we’d built a fort and we were all playing around in it.”
Thanks in no small part to that sense of playfulness, My Morning Jacket harnesses the hypnotic intensity of their live show more fully than ever—a major triumph for a band whose storied history includes a four-hour-long, 35-song, rain-drenched set at Bonnaroo 2008. “For years we’ve been trying to capture that feeling of the five of us vamping on something with absolutely no road map,” notes Hallahan. In channeling that free-flowing spirit, the album imparts countless moments of wild transcendence. “It feels like nowadays everyone’s afraid to get raucous or silly, but that reckless explosion of rock-and-roll is something we really try to hold onto,” says James.
For all its unbridled joy, My Morning Jacket again reveals the band’s hunger for exploring the most nuanced and layered existential questions in song form. To that end, the album opens on “Regularly Scheduled Programming” and its poetic commentary on the impulse to numb out in order to escape a painful reality. “This song really hits home for me after what we’ve gone through with the pandemic,” says James. “But even before then, it felt like so many of us were trading real life for social media, trading our own stories for the storylines on TV, trading our consciousness for drugs. We need to help each other wake up to real love before it's too late." One of several songs featuring the heavenly backing vocals of Briana Lee and Maiya Sykes, “Regularly Scheduled Programming” unfolds as a gloriously spacey number, beginning on a bit of psychedelic poetry (“Diamonds are growing in the garden/Raindrops are filling up the sea”) and ultimately building to its resolute conclusion (“One shot at redemption: a mighty and sacred love”).
An album that endlessly wanders into new psychic terrain, My Morning Jacket next delivers the mantra-like directive of “Love Love Love,” a groove-driven and sweetly euphoric track. “That one’s trying to steer the ship away from everything I’m talking about in ‘Regularly Scheduled Programming’ and speak toward positivity and pure love, finding truth within yourself and in the world around you,” says James. From there, the band drifts into the delicate majesty on “In Color,” a gorgeously wayward epic graced with a feverish riff that came to James in a dream. “‘In Color’ is just a simple statement of wishing everyone could agree that difference is what makes life beautiful, and that things look better with all of us here: every shade of the rainbow, every gender and race and sexual orientation,” says James. “If you deny that, you’re missing out on one of the greatest joys in life: the wonders of what people can give to each other.”
One of the most frenetic offerings on My Morning Jacket, “Complex” brings a shred-heavy urgency to James’s self-reflection. “In a lot of ways I feel like I’m a puzzle piece that won’t fit,” he says. “There’s so much in life that I can’t figure out, like how to make a relationship work or how to make a career work in a way I feel fully satisfied with. ‘Complex’ is sort of me asking, ‘What am I missing here?’” In its convergence of intense introspection and outward-looking inquiry, My Morning Jacket achieves a particularly riveting power on the nine-minute-long “The Devil’s in the Details.” “That song came from thinking about being an adolescent and growing up at the mall,” says James. “It’s like this strange in-between place for when you can’t quite be part of the world yet — and on top of that there’s the horror of the mall and how much of what’s sold there is made through slave labor. I wrote that song so that nothing gets resolved; I wanted to leave the listener with an unsettled feeling.” At the very opposite end of the emotional spectrum, My Morning Jacket closes out with “I Never Could Get Enough,” an otherworldly love song that precisely captures the rapture of infatuation. “I’m really proud of that one; I love that it’s a little slow and moody and lets you get lost in it,” says Blankenship. “It’s like the song’s not demanding you to be involved the whole time — you can just let it play and go off into your own world for a while.”
For My Morning Jacket, the ability to supply those sublimely dazed moments is closely tied to the uncalculated nature of the album-making process. “Everyone in the room was willing to let the songs come together naturally, which I think allowed for a lot of exploration,” says Hallahan. “This is what it sounds like when we get out of the way and let the music go where it wants.” And within that surrender is a profound sense of purpose, a commitment to providing listeners with the kind of emotional outlet that feels more essential all the time. “I hope this album brings people a lot of joy and relief, especially since we’ve all been cooped up for so long,” says James. “I know that feeling you get from driving around blasting music you love, or even lying in bed and crying to the music you love. The fact that we’re able to be a part of people’s lives in that way is so magical to us, and it feels really good that we’re still around to keep doing that.”