No Surf Music


The No Surf Review


The Lowdown:

My Morning Jacket

Carl Broemel (guitar), Patrick Hallahan (drums), Jim James (vocals/guitar), Bo Koster (keyboards), "Two-Tone" Tommy (bass)

Based In:
Louisville, KY




Release Date:
May 31, 2011


Previous Releases:
The Tennessee Fire (1999), At Dawn (2001), It Still Moves (2003), Z (2005), Evil Urges (2008)

Indie rock, roots rock, psychedelic rock, country rock, jam band

My Morning Jacket, Circuital cover art

Rating: 3 out of 10



May 30, 2011


My Morning Jacket: Circuital

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


My Morning Jacket: I don't care who any of these people are and neither should you.

My Morning Jacket is boring. Excruciatingly boring. So fucking boring that had I not taken notes while listening to this album, I would have already forgotten its existence.

Now to be fair, I knew that going in. There’s one and only one reason I am reviewing this album: because I hope it will shut people up. See, everyone tells me I should listen to My Morning Jacket. I’m sitting at a coffee shop or a bar or a bus stop and I take my headphones out for a minute and get into a random conversation with almost any nearby schmuck and it usually goes like this: “Hey, what are you listening to?” I provide an answer, and no matter what that answer is, it’s proof that I enjoy music, therefore they feel free to say, “You know who you should get into? My Morning Jacket. They’re awesome.”

The same thing used to happen all the time with Phish. “Oh, you like to smoke pot? You should listen to Phish. I think you’d like them.” No, I’m sorry, I’m one of those potheads whose ability to discern awesomeness from crap doesn’t immediately disappear after one puff. Thankfully, Phish is dead and buried, but—to the detriment of our entire society—MMJ is still prospering.

This is a complete mystery, because they have all the interest-grabbing ability of elevator music. In fact, that’s exactly what they are, something to play in the background that people will barely notice, that won’t interfere with whatever else they may be doing, and that stands absolutely no chance of offending anybody’s sensibilities. They’re famous for their wall of sound “power,” and while I have no problem with that style of music (see the No Surf Review of Ha Ha Tonka’s Death of a Decade), playing twenty instruments at once does not automatically make music interesting. It just makes it busy.

The fact that people think this is good music proves one thing: people are stupid and they have no taste (ok, that’s two things, but one seems to lead inexorably to the other, so I’m counting it as one, although I don’t know which is cause and which is effect). My Morning Jacket is the musical equivalent of a rabbit sex toy. Everybody seems to think they’re the best thing since sliced bread (which itself proves people’s stupidity… sliced bread only goes bad faster). The difference is the rabbit will get you off. My Morning Jacket is just one big limp-dick disappointment.

There are no highlights on Circuital, only less-lowlights. The first track “Victory Dance” opens with a facsimile of a triumphal fanfare that makes it seem like it might be lively and interesting. However it quickly mellows, slows, and decays into a mishmash of sound. It has a very Western ambiance about it, and some interesting percussion beats. It ends in speed drumming and howling that collapses into a low rumble with periodic pings, flowing seamlessly into the next song.

That next song is the title track, “Circuital.” It does feature lively bursts of acoustic guitar and hints of America-ish folk rock. There’s some pretty pronounced ebbing and flowing as the song goes along, which is at least an improvement over the band’s usual “play everything all the time” philosophy. At least it tries to be interesting instead of just noisy. Any points in its favor are wiped out, however, as the Jim James mispronounces the song’s title in the lyrics, making it sound like circuit-towel. I don’t believe this is a stylistic choice; I’m pretty confident he just doesn’t know the word.

“Holdin’ On to Black Metal,” almost strains itself into being lively with a funky, distorted guitar groove and horn accents. The guitar breaks are pretty decent and there are lots of chanting harmonies that very nearly get your ears to perk up and pay attention. But not quite.

“First Light” is another kinda funky, high distortion groove with some blues horn action. It is a born jam song, however, and seems pointless in a studio version. In fact, that’s the case with almost this entire album. I admit I have never seen this band live—and like many of their ilk they may be far better in that venue—but if that’s true, releasing studio albums just as promotional aids that make the label happy seems like a waste of people’s money.

“You Wanna Freak Out” is evocative of George Harrison, but of course much busier. Some of the lyrics might have been sung by Harrison himself, during his Dark Horse days:

First you’re up, up, down, down.
One day you’re in; the next one you’re out.

In fact, most of what’s decent on this album seems like it was cribbed from somebody else, spiritually if not in the plagiaristic sense. It’s what’s original that’s crap.

“Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” really deserves two separate reviews, because it is like two separate songs—the first sucking horribly, the second not so bad. The first part is an extended play on the lame-ass title, centered on the chorus of “I feel so wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, the way I feel.” This section does contain one notable line:

With the sun on my shoulder
And the wind at my back
I will never grow older,
At least not in my mind.

It is only notable because it stands in stark contrast to the entirety of the next song, making the pairing nonsensical.

After several minutes of unremarkable blathering, the song closes with a long bridge that is much more interesting, both musically and lyrically. The best series of lines on the whole album are:

I’m goin’ where there ain’t no fear.
I’m goin’ where the sprit is near.
I’m goin’ where the livin’ is easy and people are kind,
A new state of mind.

I’m goin’ where there ain’t no police.
I’m goin’ where there ain’t no disease.
I’m goin’ where there ain’t no need to escape what is only spirits at ease.

It all seems very much in the vein of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” or of Woody Guthrie in any number of songs. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d think the bit about police almost has to be a direct reference to “Hobo’s Lullaby” (not actually written by Guthrie, but often played by him), which states:

I know the police cause you trouble.
They cause trouble everywhere.
When you die and go to heaven
You’ll find no policemen there.

Unfortunately, the coolness of the song’s last minute does not make up for the train wreck that precedes it.

The next track, “Outta My System” is mellow, with light ringing of bells in the background. The lyrics are strangely evocative of a Bruce Springsteen Born in the U.S.A.-era coming-of-age song (although not nearly as well written), possibly because the lyrical rhythm seems to have been taken straight from “Darlington County.” It is a typical middle-aged rocker’s take on moving past their youthful exuberance and into the long slide of adulthood:

They told me not to smoke drugs but I wouldn’t listen.
Never thought I’d get caught and wind up in prison.
Chalk it up to youth but young age I ain’t dissin’.
I guess I just had to get it outta my system.

It tells a story done by almost every musician who makes it past the age of 35. Off hand, I can think of a half-dozen incarnations that are better. Imagine the Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road” if Chrissie Hynde were a complete tool and you would have “Outta My System.”

“Slow Slow Tune” is, in fact, slow. Both musically and vocally it seems to be an attempt to channel Slow Hand himself. Now, I’m about to say something that will make a lot of people mad, so brace yourself: Eric Clapton has also made a lot of really, really boring music. Don’t get me wrong, I love Derek and the Dominoes and Cream and all that, but most of his post-heroin solo stuff he was just coasting by on his reputation. In that respect, he is a perfect role model for MMJ.

Finally there are “The Day Is Coming” and the closer, “Movin’ Away.” They are entirely forgettable piles of shit.

My Morning Jacket, taken in silohette so as to obscure any detail

This picture is about as clear as the band's reason for existence.

There you have it. I have now devoted a not-so-negligible portion of my life to listening to and thinking about My Morning Jacket. That is the only allotment of my short existence on this Earth that I will waste with them, and I suggest the same to you. If you like jam band music, first, seek help; then listen to Yonder Mountain String Band. They have their problems (mostly their fan base), but at least they’re more entertaining than curing concrete. If you like the wall-of-sound model of music, I highly recommend Ha Ha Tonka’s Death of a Decade, which is in the same mode but literally a million times more interesting than this pitiful lametude. In fact, I’ve been listening to it the whole time I’ve been writing this because if I’d listened any more MMJ I would have fallen asleep. I feel much better now.

Music should be exciting. It should be engaging. It should make your mind leap to places it wouldn’t go in the silences. It can be mellow. It can be light. It can be low-key. But one thing it should never be is boring, and Circuital is just that.

If you ever run into me at a concert, a bar, a coffee shop, a bus stop, or the top of the goddamn Eifel Tower, I’ll be happy to take your musical recommendations to heart, just please, please, please stop telling me to listen to My Morning Jacket. They suck donkey balls. They always have and they always will.


Unless you're looking for a sleep aid, don't buy this album. Try Ha Ha Tonka's Death of a Decade if you want some good tunes!
mp3 cd vinyl


No Pop. No Crap. No Surf.