“Power, do you know how it works?” So asks Jim James, alt-rock’s wisest mountain poet, amid the stormy gothic-blues build of “Victory Dance.” If there’s any band in the universe that knows the meaning of power, it’s Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket, a five-piece that thrives, more than anything, on the thunder of five hairy men playing instruments together in a room. But Circuital, the band’s sixth full-length, is generally excellent for everything except gusto.
Recorded in a church gymnasium in the band’s native Louisville, done mostly in full-group takes with minimal overdubs, Circuital was hyped in early interviews as a return to their raw, reverby Southern-rock roots — the kind of shit they perfected on early gems like At Dawn and critical breakthrough It Still Moves. But My Morning Jacket are in a different headspace here, using the tight, muscular production offered by Tucker Martine as a springboard for their most atmospheric work to date.
Sure, it wouldn’t be a My Morning Jacket album without a few barnburners — the title track is one of their most epic achievements, a Radiohead-style guitar arpeggio morphing into country-inflected barroom strumming and extended soloing. But a more typical offering is the precise, flowery pop of “Out of My System,” which soars on Carl Broemel’s pedal steel ache and Bo Koster’s sublime synth bleeps. Their last studio work, 2008’s Evil Urges, was a barrage of disconnected eclecticism — the warped disco-metal of “Highly Suspicious” and sweet acoustic reverie “Librarian” still feel like strange album-mates. Circuital is nearly as wide-ranging, marrying the oddball ’70s soul of “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” with tear-streaked piano waltzes (“Movin’ Away”), emotive psychedelia (“You Wanna Freak Out”), and acoustic bliss (the show-stopping “Wonderful”). But this time out, the puzzle pieces actually fit together. Carry on, ye bearded gods. – Boston Phoenix