The switch to a major label is a double-edged sword for many bands. Is it selling out, or simply a desire for greater distribution and exposure? Shunning a band for leaving the indies and setting up shop in the corporate world is, in my humblest of opinions, symptomatic of a narrow mind and a holier-than-thou attitude. Some great bands found that the grass is greener (and more potent) on the Other Side: Modest Mouse delivered a sprawling example of their gnarled panic-poetry on a musical bed that hadn't changed much. ...And You Will Know us by the Trail of Dead made a record that sneered with real malice, despite the polished production. Other bands lose their heads with an increased budget: Rings Around the World
was weighed-down by pomp and bloatedness -- the result of the Super Furry Animals now having too much money and a squadron of suits to appease?
So, what of My Morning Jacket's move from Darla to ATO/RCA? Happily, the results are positive; It Still Moves harvests everything that made the band great in the first place, while not adding too much in the way of bells and whistles. Jim James still sounds like the bastard son borne of a three-way between Brian Wilson, Neil Young and Wayne Coyne. His soaring tenor is luxurious and reverb-heavy, pure honey on the ears.
It Still Moves thrums with Americana/country twang and refined songwriting chops; the mix is heady and slightly on the lush side of the production coin. "Mahgeetah" chimes with the kind of resonant beauty and heartache you might usually associate with Harvest's "A Man Needs a Maid", replete with back-up choir and a poppy inertia all its own. "Dancefloors"' honky-tonk piano and James's impassioned vocals sit atop a genuinely stunning hookline: "Oh I know it's never easy / When there's trouble waitin' for me". Midway through, a bass lick announces a one-chord jam that melts into a guitar solo, which kicks and thrashes against a horn section that blares and blazes like a fire in your memory. It's so catchy it's rude.
"One Big Holiday" begins with a "tata-tata-tata-tata" hi-hat rhythm that mimics "She Bangs the Drums". It's a little disappointing when Mani's bulbous bassline doesn't enter, but instead we hear some nifty guitar work and yet another top-drawer song. In fact, for an album that pushes past the 70 minute mark, there is surprisingly little filler -- definitely the mark of a band operating at the peak of their considerable powers.
Time will tell whether or not My Morning Jacket will enjoy the longevity of a Dylan or a Young, but for a band only three albums into their career, they're showing inordinate amounts of brilliance. The best moments on It Still Moves outshine much of At Dawn, while keeping true to that record's heart of gold. Even more impressively, the best moments here also rival the likes of Summerteeth and the aforementioned Harvest. Buy It Still Moves, and the dust it kicks up will have a hard time settling.