My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall II Music Album Reviews

When they recorded 2015’s late-career highlight The Waterfall, MMJ wrote enough material for two albums. If the original was about conflict, the new volume concerns the healing that comes after. 

Before My Morning Jacket released The Waterfall back in 2015, Jim James was already teasing a follow-up. He mentioned that the band’s sessions in Stinson Beach, California, just north of San Francisco, were so productive that they left with at least two full-lengths’ worth of material. They considered releasing a double album and quickly abandoned that idea, instead splitting the songs into two distinct records, the second of which was originally slated for 2016. On the heels of that release, however, the band got caught up touring and James got busy writing a bunch of material, and that follow-up became known as their “lost” album. “It still exists,” James assured Rolling Stone in 2017.
And now it finally exists for the rest of us. The surprise release of The Waterfall II ends the longest drought of new music in their 20-year career, but this isn’t really a lost album like Neil Young’s Homegrown. It doesn’t tell us anything about My Morning Jacket that we didn’t already know, and it doesn’t pose any what-ifs or prompt speculation about alternative timelines. Instead, it’s just more My Morning Jacket music: solid but seldom revelatory, new yet familiar. “Spinning My Wheels” opens with a dark cloud of buzzing static, which is quickly dispelled by a woozy keyboard theme—a simple, quiet demonstration of music’s power to provide clarity and direction. “I’ve been wrong for so long,” James sings, “risking my life for the sake of the song.”

This might be a reference to his manic schedule during the early ’00s, when My Morning Jacket were touring constantly and James’ health suffered, leading to an incident during the Waterfall sessions when he herniated a disc in his back and was bedridden for two months. Is that busy schedule worth it, he seems to be asking himself, especially when you’re just doing it so you can do it again and again? Typically an album ends with such an epiphany, but The Waterfall II opens with that declaration and carries it through nine more songs. If its predecessor was about conflict and healing—it’s My Morning Jacket’s thorniest album, emotionally speaking—then this follow-up is more about what comes after that healing.

It makes for a busier-sounding album. My Morning Jacket have always savored the collision of disparate styles and sounds (remember that cover of Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls”?), but lately that’s become a more prominent tactic for them. The band constructed several songs on The Waterfall by digitally piecing together bits of different recordings, and the resulting arrangements moved in weird, unexpected ways that could be thrilling in their unpredictability. Those moments sound a little more scripted here. “Still Thinkin’” morphs from a chorus that recalls Herman’s Hermits into a crushed-velvet coda that’s closer to King Crimson, and while anything that places those two acts in the same sentence can’t be all bad, the pivot sounds disjointed and disorienting. “Climbing the Ladder” better integrates its varied sounds, marrying a two-tone rhythm section to some hyperactive honky-tonk guitars, like the Specials winning over a crowd in Bakersfield, but the equation still sounds a bit too clever.

The best moments here are the most direct, the least demonstrative. We’ve heard My Morning Jacket in slow-jam mode many times before, but “Feel You” sounds weightless, its guitar arpeggios like fingers down a lover’s spine. It’s less about sex than the seduction beforehand and the languid moments afterwards, and My Morning Jacket don’t add anything extraneous to break that spell. On “Magic Bullet” they establish a lurching, squelchy beat and let it run its course; it never resolves, never uncoils, even as they layer more guitars and more saxophone on top of it. The song doesn’t veer from that straight line, and that restraint is what makes it sound so tense and frenetic.

“I wonder where the time went,” James sings delicately on the closer “The First Time,” which sounds like one of many acknowledgements of the many years in between The Waterfall and The Waterfall II. Right now 2015 feels like a completely different geologic time period, so these songs can’t help but convey a sense of poignancy in their reminiscences. In that regard its surprise release is well timed; this satellite album, forever orbiting another, better record, may never escape its gravity, but it does ultimately carve out its own character and declare its own commentary. “Can tomorrow feel like it did back in the past?” James asks, once again soaring up into his famous falsetto. He makes it sound like this was his plan all along—to delay the release of these songs until that interim actually meant something and made them sound even better.
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My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall II Music Album Reviews My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall II Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, July 20, 2020 Rating:

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