My Morning Jacket has been putting out records since 1998 with this year’s The Waterfall marking their seventh studio album. Despite their limited commercial success My Morning Jacket has built a diehard following and proven themselves to be one of the best live performances of their time. Regardless of how you feel about their music never pass on a chance to see them in the flesh, there are few musical or even spiritual experiences that can come close, just ask those who were at Bonnaroo in 2008 for their marathon 4 hour set. At their pinnacle they delivered 2005’s Z, one of the best albums of the aught’s and arguably an even greater swath of musical history. Since then they have released Evil Urges, which many thought detoured from their signature sound with bizarre tracks like “Highly Suspicious” but the record still had some gems like “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2.” Later, in 2011 they released Circuital and reassured fans that they weren’t abandoning their innovative sound.
As any My Morning Jacket fan will tell you it’s been a long wait since 2011 but the time was well spent by the band as The Waterfall is one of the bands strongest records. Adding to the list of bodily injuries suffered by James for his craft, James suffered a herniated disc during the recording of the record in Stinson Beach in Northern California. After recovering from surgery the river of music that led to The Waterfall began flowing. Not only was one record borne from their recording session but the band has teased that another record will be coming out in the next year.
As if it didn’t need mentioning, Jim James is the bedrock of My Morning Jacket and this album gives a glimpse into his life that has never been seen before. Prior records gravitated towards themes of happiness and an enlightened outlook on the wild journey that is life, while this record shows hints of frustration and the struggle of a failing relationship. Not to say the entire record is a vent for relationship issues, there are the standard uplifting tracks but the undercurrents of disappointment and frustration are apparent. Deciding to build off the successful collaboration achieved with Circuital, the band again worked with producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Modest Mouse)
The opening track, “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is crafted perfectly and begins with a gentle keyboard before employing James’ yearning voice and heavy guitar accompaniment. This is the sound that My Morning Jackets fans crave and the perfect opener to the record. Arguably the best track follows with “Compound Fracture,” James’ trademark falsetto anchors an upbeat track with vocal support from other members on the chorus and a cascading keyboard to finish. Soon to follow is the title track “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall),” gently alluding to something inevitable coming to fruition and asking “The waterfall, can it be stopped?” and concluding with “The idea was always there, in its infancy, The see took root, over many years,” where James drops the falsetto and croons ominously over a dark keyboard progression. The foreshadowing proves prophetic in “Get The Point,” when James bluntly sings the harsh reality “I hope you get the point, I think our love is done.” Despite the message the track is surprisingly sweet with a simple acoustic guitar leading the way throughout the track.
After “Get The Point” comes the howl, a howl harking back to “Wordless Chorus,” James’ seductive wail is unmistakable and “Spring (Among the Living)” does a great job of showcasing his vocal range. The message feels like an emergence from hibernation with lyrics like “Among the living again, I didn’t think I’d make it.” One of the first singles off the record was “Big Decisions,” a clear highlight that is the culmination James’ frustration. Never before have we heard lyrics like “…I’m getting so tired of being nice” from James and the rest of the song touches on his agitations in a relationship with someone who really isn’t a bad person but is as the song puts it, “…so ruled by fear.” The final track on the record is a 7 minute soft-spoken outro called “Only Memories Remain.” The perfect finale to a deep look into Jim James the person, someone who has struggled in relationships despite the appearance of a zen crooner. The Waterfall is emotional and dark at times but its themes are so familiar that anyone can relate. As Jim James told Rolling Stone Magazine the title “is a metaphor for how life is constantly beating you down, and you really have to take time to stop it and get through.”
Written by Parker Hooper
OurVinyl | Contributor