Ten Years Later: Revisiting My Morning Jacket’s Victorious ‘Circuital’

By the time My Morning Jacket released their sixth studio album Circuital (released 5/31/11), the group had stretched their stylistic reach to its furthest extent. Referenced in the most accessible track on Circuital, “Outta My System,” the band’s previous record, Evil Urges, was only a partially successful experiment in diversity at best and the band seemed to know it. Accordingly, the unspoken premise for the subsequent album was a return to the readily identifiable style of kinetic rock and roll the group had maintained even through the eclectic likes of 2005’s Z.

But even as Circuital was not exactly the sequel to 2003’s It Still Moves, it would prove to be the first of two albums on which the quintet was only partially successful in recapturing the dynamism of such early work. Nevertheless,  in “Victory Dance,” the grandeur MMJ’s capable of conjuring at its best appears almost immediately, albeit in somewhat muffled form. The title song effectively contrasts that opener, its dense arrangement underpinned with muscular acoustic rhythm guitar that that unfolds with great drama through moody vocal intonations over a shadowy orchestrated backdrop supplied by keyboardist Bo Koster; the layered instrumental intricacy carries more weight than the composition itself  (or the level of engagement by its author Jim James), introducing that same nagging sense pervading too much of this record, 

In a reflection of an effort to begin again, it’s no coincidence Circuital contains “New Light,” a cut appearing near the album’s end.  Or that the actual conclusion of the record, “Movin’ Away,” contains a mantra about ‘a new life to create…’ Meanwhile, at the other end of the album, the ever-so-slight hint of Philadelphia soul in the frontman’s soaring voice during “The Day Is Coming” is the judicious infusion of influence, a decided contrast to the more overstated stylistic homages on prior LPs. Adding to its positive impact is the sequencing: that track sounds right at home next to the intimate acoustic picking and throaty intonations of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” where the spare echoes of strings reflect a less-is-more approach that is unfortunately all too rarely applied over the course of the ten cuts’ forty-five-minute duration. 

Yet the chorale of voices and orchestrated horns work for “Holding On to Black Metal” because those production touches derive directly from a heavy backbeat from drummer Patrick Hallahan locked down by bassist Tom Blankenship (aka Two-Tone Tommy). Meanwhile, Carl Broemel’s buzzsaw guitar cuts through the stratified din and soars to the top of the mix; the heady momentum My Morning Jacket’s generated at this point almost compels a climax with such an uproarious rocker, but that would’ve been too literal-minded for this eccentric a group: the quietly haunting conclusion, “Slow Slow Tune,” is thus much more appropriate.

One of the most anticipated albums of 2011, this effort of My Morning Jacket’s is, in the hindsight of a decade, one of those instances where the level of the band’s inspiration only fleetingly meets expectation. From a more narrow perspective, it represents the emergence of a disparity between the quality of the group’s material and its live performances, a dynamic that became increasingly apparent in the years following roadwork in support of the record (and hearkened to uproarious and memorable appearances like that of Radio City Music Hall in 2008). It was not actually until The Waterfall II in 2020 that MMJ reentered the rarefied space they inhabited in the studio as well as on stage near two decades prior.


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One Response

  1. This review is nonsense. Circuital is easily one of MMJ’s widest ranging and best records, and has lasted a decade jn my constantly played list. It Still Moves is MMJ’s The Color and The Shape, a record whose memory is labeler as their peak but carrier more by the massive singles on it, then it actually being a consistently good record.

    Circuital is the record Evil Urges wanted to be but more focused. A wide ranging psychedelic variety of different styles combining the band’s knack for twanging psychedelic country rock, Americana Radiohead, and freewheeling throwback hard rock in one of their most cohesive sets.

    This review sounds more like somebody who merely decided to give this record one listen in between his trip to the local Starbucks and his class on Intro to Music Criticism discards this as an inadequate record because he listened to their highlights and happened to pickup The Waterfall records on the top of the Spotify list. Reducing Victory Dance to a “muffled” sentence is absolutely insane. This is easily the most accessible MMJ record for those wanting to see the modern version of the band who have grown into a force of nature beyond their indie alt-country pining of the first 3 records. Don’t listen to this guy, go listen to this record!!

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