Aaron Frank reps Louisville like DeJuan Wheat.

It’s easy to look at the artwork and promotion leading up to Circuital and guess that My Morning Jacket’s sixth album is heavily conceptual.  It’s not — even though the Louisville quintet’s last two albums attempted something similar. Instead, Circuital comes off like it’s trying to articulate a more general theme of the band returning  to its roots and re-defining them.

While Circuital has the loose-limbed energy of a record ostensibly written on tour, it was actually recorded in a rented out Louisville gymnasium, with every song tracked live and production duties handled mostly by lead singer Jim James. It wasn’t unlike their early days recording in a small studio in a barn outside of the city, where they used the cavernous effect to their advantage, shaping the songs to fit a more intimate live setting. Consequently, James once again picks up the honorary Jimmy Page production baton,  experimenting in the control room with Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine.

The echoes of the large gymnasium space are sculpted perfectly to fit softer songs like “Wonderful.” While unusual mic techniques and a ripped off riff from a Siamese Soul comp are employed on “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” to get the most out of the acoustics for the horns and rhythm section. There’s a strange, otherworldly quality to My Morning Jacket’s style that seems to transcend time and geography, and with such random lyrical and instrumental influences, they’ve become more self-aware and confident, branching out beyond folk and southern rock (even if it occasionally includes faux heavy metal songs about peanut butter pudding surprises)

On Circuital, James indulges his R&B leanings with songs like “The Day Is Coming,” where he breaks out his famous falsetto against the backdrop of one of the album’s funkier rhythms. MMJ’s more rough-edged hard rock influences are felt on opener “Victory Dance” and the more upbeat “First Light–” another track with a searing horn section that will play incredibly well live. For a band who’s covered everyone from Erykah Badu to Bob Dylan to Black Sabbath, the range of influences isn’t as impressive as the way they are balanced and interspersed with MMJ’s own odd blend of cosmic moonshine.

For years, MMJ has been known as one of the best live acts in the world, but Circuital demonstrates a subtly evolving band. It’s straight-forward but nuanced, both rocking and mellow. A dozen years deep in their careers, My Morning Jacket are wearing their age well.

MP3: My Morning Jacket-“Holding On to Black Metal” (Left-Click)

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