Saturday, November 19, 2005

Review: My Morning Jacket, Z

My Morning Jacket
The Good News: Best Album Of 2005 (maybe)
The Bad News: Sony Sucks Donkey Genitals

So let's set aside the Sony issue for a moment and talk about the music. Hoo-boy, the music. What a great f*ckin' album. And, really, it's hard to say that strongly enough. Some true moments of shock & awe here, folks. For me, the stepping off point had to be It Still Moves, MMJ's 2003 masterwork. Is this as good? Maybe, hard to tell. But it's pretty damn different, that's for sure, either as a result of growth of personnel changes or both. I'd viewed It Still Moves as more or less the best Neil Young album of the past 20 years -- or, more specifically, what Neil might sound like if he were just starting out today and hadn't already written his best songs. Z, in contrast, barely conjures up Neil at all. Sure, there is still a flavor of 70's FM epic rock and rustic Americana flowing through this, particularly in some of the rousing tracks in the center of the album (though for me they're a bit more reminiscent of, say, Born To Run-era Springsteen). But this time around the sounds have a much more synthetic, keyboard-based flavor (though guitars still dominate the better tracks), dense and enveloping and claustrophobic. The Radiohead comparison is inevitable, though if anything the album sounds most like the last few Flaming Lips albums. Indeed, at times singer Jim James sounds so much like the Lips' Wayne Coyne that you almost have to check the cd player to make sure you're not, in fact, listening to the Lips ("Knot Comes Loose" and "Into The Woods" being particularly vivid examples). Now, as a Lips fan (but less of a Radiohead fan), there's nothing wrong with this. But I do have to say that the first few tracks, which seem the most Lips-like and studio tricked-out, are less captivating than the more traditional, straight-rocking numbers that follow, like "Anytime" and "Off The Record." (Not to slag the first few tracks, which are at the very least truly stunning studio creations.) Now, they might get less credit for the classic rock-ish tracks here, which really do sound like updated vamps on 70s FM radio (strains of Jackson Browne and Bruuuuuuce, for better or ill), but a rousing rocker that grabs you by the throat is nothing to be ashamed of. If I have one complaint, it's that (as with some prior work), there's a bit of drop-off in quality at the end. But by then I was so exhausted by the prior songs that I felt pretty damn satisfied nonetheless.

Now, as promised, the Sony rant: This disc is copy protected. As a matter of principle, I can't recommend buying anything with this technology (although, at the moment, it does not appear that Z has the spyware technology that exposes your pc to viruses, and is not on the list of cd's that Sony has (only following lawsuits and unprecedented public outcry) agreed to recall. But if you, like me, like to listen to your music on an iPod, or a hard-drive-based component; or you like to make cdr mixes (and there are quite a few tracks here that are contenders for my annual Best Of The Year mix), then this is a pain in the ass. The band, to their credit, are opposed to the copy protection, and their website helps walk you around the copy protection, but it's a pain in the ass. So your call on what to do about it, and whether you want to support Sony by buying this. (I should note, however, that while most artists don't seem to give a crap about the whole thing, my e-mail to the band complaining about the copy-protection scheme was replied to within hours, and they were very cool about it; I somehow doubt that Celine Dion or Neil Diamond are as accessible.)


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