Friday, June 13, 2008

My Morning and Evening with My Morning Jacket

I could only find bologna in the fridge.

After being gone from my house all day, it has come to my attention that my fridge is severely lacking the essential late night munchies that I have been accustomed to coming home to after a long day of work and then fun for the past year at school. And that's too bad because on the drive home I was really looking forward to having a great midnight snack as I wrote of my experience with My Morning Jacket's phenomenal new album Evil Urges.

I'm a man that has a very particular way of listening to music. I do not only judge an album by its pure musical qualities but also with the experiences that go along with it, and how these lyrics and notes influence our perception of the environment around us, along with taking into account what mood we are in, and the current topics on our mind. I know, it's meticulous, but what can I say, I'm a little bit OCD. Or as my dear friend, let's call her Cobra for now, says, "God, you're such a virgo."

My morning began with the excited nervousness of finally listening to this album after weeks of waiting for it. I bought the album last night, hoping it would be as good as critics had been claiming it to be while not trying to expect too much. I find that high expectations for music, or anything for that matter, do not let a person realistically judge something's or someone's talent or level. Music, for example, should be listened to at a neutral level. This is hard for people, and especially me, as everything influences the prepurchase process and perception of something.

Satisfaction is a function of perception minus expectations. But here's the great kicker: MMJ knows this fact and decides to fuck with it, blowing your mind. Will Hermes of Rolling Stone writes, "But coming from a young band whose first three albums earned them a reputation as hairy torchbearers of guitar-driven classick rock, the title is also about messing with expectations. More so than 2005's mildly experimental Z, Evil Urges explodes the band's sound with the same kind of creative leap that Wilco took on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Radiohead took on Kid A." That's quite an impressive comparison, I gotta say.

I've had three different experiences with this album today. I listened to it three different times in which I was in a different mood and different state of mind.

The first time--7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., taking the 5 to the 134 to the 2 to the 5 to the 110 to the 10 to get to my Santa Monica internship, stuck in fucking L.A. morning traffic.

The second time--5:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., driving to the frat from the internship, stuck again in horrific rush hour traffic and anticipating the Lakers-Celtic Game 4.

The third time--1:30 a.m. to 2:15 a.m., driving from the frat to home after a disappointing Lakers game, an excellent Kung Fu Panda viewing (This movie fuckin' rocks! Highly recommended!), and being a little bit admittedly under the influence.

I can wholeheartedly and confidently say that this album is fucking amazing because it was great all three times.

The song "Evil Urges" first blasted from my Hyrbrid's speakers at 7:40 a.m. As this was the first time I was going to hear this song, and this album wholly, I had no idea what to really expect except the hope that it would be a great album starter. I won't lie when I say it threw me off. Jim James' voice was doing some weird higher pitched thing than he normally does. The guitar intro started amazingly, full of lust and mystery, the hint of something sinister lying deeper within the song. And then all the sudden, the song takes on a happy note, still sung in the Prince-like falsetto. I felt like it was commenting on the fact of evil urges themselves--there can lying something dark, but at the same time, a relishment of giving into sin. It's almost like Jim James is prefacing the album with the disclaimer: give into this album and everything with it. Come over to the dark side, it's a good time. And damn right it is. When I listened to it the second time, it put me in a great mood as I was just getting off work. The third time, driving through Downtown's beautiful Skyline on the 110 at such a late hour and feeling like I was floating, I was hooked.

The second song "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 1" is probably my least favorite song on the album, although that's not saying much as it's relative to the rest of the album. I love this song, but I just love other songs more. Just like "Evil Urges," the different musical tone of James' voice threw me off because I'm so used to the way he sounds on the other albums.

The third song woke me up in the morning. I was exhausted. It was early in the morning, so I started dozing off. But this song, the weirdest, most experimental song of their career, made me alert again. Here, James channels Prince literally, complete with high falsetto, sexy tempo, and dangerous bass. The band then joins in with a kinda Satanic chorus of the song's name "Highly Suspicious." I dig it just for its sheer guilty pleasure factor.

I have had a lot of conflict with "I'm Amazed." This was the first song of the album I heard--it was the only single distributed on iTunes, and playing on radio for that matter (besides the last song of the album, but I'll get to that). At first, it reminded me of their Tennesee Fire and At Dawn days, in which they made great music still, but it's not the band that has grown, the band that I've come to love. It's just too country for me. But on the second hearing of this song after work, it finally took on a whole new meaning for me. The soft uptempo guitar hooks draws you in as James sings of the wonders and amazement of simple life around him. I definitely respect that. As a single, I didn't appreciate this song because, well, it just didn't feel like a single to me. I don't think MMJ is a singles-band anyway. In context with the rest of the album, though, this song is the first "normal" MMJ song, and it succeeds tremendously in that way.

After the six cups of coffee I drank at work today, I was definitely wired when I listened to the soothing and relaxing fifth song "Thank You Too!", James love ode and deep gratitude to the girl who gave him the time of day. The band's heavenly harmony manifests his sincere and genuine love for a girl that seems to deserve it. Paul Rudd could come up to me right now and say, "You know how I know you're gay? Because this song makes you feel like you could fall in love with this girl." I would absolutely agree with him.

"Sec Walkin" initially makes me feel like I'm watching a haunting horror film or some obscure indie film like Donnie Darko. Then, the opening versus transforms the song into a lovely song of longing, that, in my perception and interpretation, speaks of travel and connection.

"Two Halves" is another harmonic song that reminds me of The Beatles and Beach Boys with its easy sing-along chorus and affectionate lyrics about dealing with the past, looking forward to the future, and wanting the innocence of being young and having the experience and knowledge of getting older. It's contemplative but puts me in a good mood.

The ambling and rambling "Librarian" feels like going on a walk with no final destination. It moves forward at a steady pace and beat. Without a musical change-up in chorus, the song feels like a primitive version of new songs, which makes sense as James sings about the simplistic natural beauty and yearn for a librarian. He describes her as "simple little beauty--heaven in your breath. The simplest of pleasures--the world at it's best." This simple song is definitely one of the best on the album.

"Look At You" is reminiscent of MMJ's live album Okonokos. It's just the right mix of sweet solo guitar, hermosa lyrics, and tribute to that special someone. "Such a glowing example of peace and glory." Hell yeah, it is.

After these really chill songs, "Aluminum Park" opens with a rocking guitar medley that brings you out of your complacent funk and makes you wanna party. It's the rally song of the album.

"Remnants" bring back serious epic rock. MMJ can be sweet and lovely at times, but people, remember this: they're from the South, and they're gonna bring their Southern badass motherfucker attitude straight to your ears. Even after all their change, they still have remnants of their former days.

And so begins the monumental two part album closer.

"Smokin From Shootin" makes the listener aware of the album so far, and whether it's good or not. He first sings, "Have you had enough excitement now? More than you ever did?" When I first heard this, I immediately thought, "Hell no! More!" The song then turns into an inspiring meditation on faith (religious and spiritual) and its role in life.

But "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 2" is the song this album was made for, the song we've all been waiting for secretly since the opening chord. I finally just figured out what other song this one reminds me of! Don't laugh, but Madonna's "Hung Up" but only that kickass recurring high pitched, wind instrument sounding beat. Anyway, obviously this song is way fucking better, though. I first heard this song through a link the Cobra sent to me via Facebook. The first time I heard it, I knew MMJ was going in different places while staying true to their essence. Now, having listened to this song four times (I'm listening to it right now as I literally write this sentence), I can surely claim that MMJ have accomplished the difficult task of creating an awesome album closer. The album closer is clutch--it's the band's final statement to the fans. I am sorry, though, that I heard this song first a while ago--the experience of listening to it for the first time after hearing the rest of the album for the first time is much more different than hearing this song first and then the rest of the album. It's like knowing the ending to a movie and nothing else about it.

Did you know that originally John Lennon wanted "I Want You (She's So Heavy) to be the album closer and their final statement to the fans before disbanding on Abbey Road, but the record company thought it was too dark, so they changed it to that medley consisting of "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," "The End," and "Her Majesty"? Yeah, think of this last song like that. The song is slinky, it's sexy, it's hypnotic, dark, intense, haunting, lustful, dangerous, sinister, scary, and purely epic.

At 2:15 a.m., I was really close to my exit on the 5 and had only made it to track five. I had this deep desire to listen to "Touch Me, Pt. 2" and have it finish exactly when I parked the car in my driveway--I figured it would be an appropriate and symbolic end to my long Thursday. The song began. The "ahhhs" of the song, the long-distance range of James' piercing voice swallowed me whole as I turned the volume on my speakers to 50. The window was down, the wind stung my face. I donno, man, I just felt alive. Although that feeling could have come from my bladder, which was telling me "Dude, I gotta take a fuckin' piss! Hurry up!" I got off the freeway and slowed the car down to a humorous 5 miles per hour, against my bladder's wishes. I took my time driving up my street. I crept into my driveway, not making a sound except for the final chords of the song. I parked the car, and the song ended. Track fourteen, the six second epilogue "Good Intentions," bursted with fake audience applause and concluded with a simple "Ok, Cool." (sidenote: I love the dichotomy of the album opener "Evil Urges" against its opposite and possible equal "Good Intentions"). And just like that, the album was over, and so was my day. Jim James last words to us are "Oh this feeling! It is wonderful! Don't you ever turn it off!" With a band like My Morning Jacket, I think this beauty won't be turned off for a long time.

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