In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Jim James likened people’s modern dependence on technology to being led “through a maze.” By revealing that he often forgets why he has reached for his handheld device, James accurately summarizes the dizzying array of options one little smartphone now provides. So it’s fitting that the album cover of James’ solo full-length Regions of Light and Sound of God, features a silhouetted James, hand pressed to face, contemplating his next move through a complex, digitally enhanced maze of possibilities. While this choice in album art nicely illustrates his modern views, the picture also serves as a visual representation of his sweeping musical styles, which despite being on full display over a decade-plus career leading My Morning Jacket, is here mined even deeper and broader.
Loosely inspired by a 1920’s graphic novel called Gods’ Man, that James devoured while recuperating from his 2008 stage fall, Regions of Light and Sound of God straddles the line between spiritual, big-picture concepts of existence and those smaller, mundane details that compose the everyday existence of managing one’s life work. Lyrically and musically, he’s jumping around and exploring new ideas and whims, while also nodding in the direction of significant influences. He offers forth impassioned pleas for starting anew on the Vegas-era Elvis-like “A New Life,” laments the shifting nature of life and perspective in the trippy, “Of The Mother Again,” and struggles to rectify moral and spiritual devotion with life’s alternate states of decadence in the dramatic pleas of “All Is Forgiven.”
Additionally, as all MMJ fans can attest to, James has a deep affinity for Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder funk-soul, and George Harrison’s spiritual and pastoral tenets. He pays homage to both, as the uplifting and kaleidoscopic “Know ‘Til Now” reflect the former, while the gentle, acoustic strums of mid-album gem, “Exploding” serve the latter. And to circle back to the issue of technology, James juxtaposes its’ artistic and practical advantages with its’ tendency to consume on the aptly titled album opening track “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U):
“We’ve got a wise old cross/The tubes are all tied/And I’m straining to remember/What it means to be alive”.
By all accounts, James appears to think deep about his place and state in the world, circa 2013. He’s learned from past encounters, struggled with roadblocks thrown in his way, and is still determining the best outlet for a “life worth living”. This solo album allows him the chance to dig around with these concepts and explore big thoughts at his own pace. It’s a strong diversion from the tenacity of his MMJ work, but not the complete 180 degree turn into the wild that plagues some artists’ solo outings. With all these creative energies and restless thoughts hounding at James, we should expect further like-minded explorations in the years to come.