I had fairly high expectations going into My Morning Jacket’s new album, The Waterfall. Z, Evil Urges, and Circuital are some of my favorite albums of all time, so I have come to hold the band to pretty high standards whenever they release new music. That said, these first few listens to The Waterfall have been rewarding, but not life-changing.
The album opens with the feel-good, energetic “Believe (Nobody Knows),” which offers a break in pace from their past couple of albums with eerie beginnings. As uplifting as the song is, it starts to feel repetitive about halfway through, and fails to transcend its original burst of enthusiasm. The subsequent track, “Compound Fracture,” redeems the album opening. Between the groovy slide guitar, retro keys, and Jim James’s relaxed crooning, the song seems like a worthy candidate for summer barbeque mixtapes.
While still highly orchestrated (especially toward the end), “Like A River” takes the album into a much mellower territory, opening and closing with soft acoustic picking. “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” serves as a bit of a wakeup call after the sleepiness brought on with “Like A River.” It opens with a communal blast of instruments, topped off with Jim James repeating “Again,” before leading into a much more sinister-sounding hook, then switching back to a softer refrain. Overall, the song almost feels like a dithering placeholder in the album. It’s decent, but clearly part of a larger whole.
“Get The Point” is perhaps the most charming track on the album. It starts in a much more stripped-down form, compared with what precedes it, as James sings over his guitar, “Well we talked and talked and carried on from sundown ‘til the break of dawn, but the needle on the line, it just keeps skipping.” He then continues singing about trying to get someone to move on, but breaking the news in the gentlest way possible. The song strikes me as, honestly, the best way to be dumped. It is short and sweet, and shows no malice.
“Spring (Among the Living)” begins with an ethereal tone, then transforms into a forceful and meaty rock expression. In this way, the song seems most closely related to the songs for which My Morning Jacket has become known.
“Big Decisions,” one of the singles from The Waterfall, sounds like the most carefully manufactured song on the album, and walks a tightrope between being finely polished and overproduced. Even still, its glossiness does not detract from its catchiness. I don’t think it is likely that people will remember this song many years from now, but it has enough radio-friendly qualities that I suspect people will be hearing it through the coming months.
“Tropics (Erase Traces)” and “Only Memories Remain” serve as appropriate closing tracks for the album. Though “Tropics” offers a lot of noisiness, it carries a general feeling of lethargy, simulating the winding down of a day. “Only Memories Remain” has a touch of groove in it, but is mostly a soft slow-jam. These two closers feel like the album’s deep, satisfied sigh at the end of a long, tiring (in a good way) vacation.
RIYL: Band of Horses, the Grateful Dead, Neko Case
Key Tracks: “Compound Fracture,” “Get the Point,” “Big Decisions”