As My Morning Jacket has risen out of the indie-Americana ranks and into the top tier of today’s rock music scene, the sheer size of their catalog has been a turn-off for many potential fans. My Morning Jacket is usually compared to classic rock monoliths like the Grateful Dead or Neil Young instead of contemporary acts like the Black Keys because of the quality of their live shows, something that’s rarely inviting for someone who just wants to chill and listen while sitting on the couch. Even though we’re living in a time when it’s easier to download an artist’s entire discography than to buy a single album, My Morning Jacket bucks that trend, which makes the entry point into their sound important.
There isn’t one concrete, agreed upon path that My Morning Jacket fans take in their discovery of the band but, like any other artist, there are definite degrees of fandom. Whereas the Black Keys haven’t altered their sound too much since their inception (although they still kick ass), someone hearing MMJ for the first time could be thrown off by the band’s weirder jams. Not every song is representative of the rest, although almost all of them are indeed freakin’ awesome.
Oh man, they are good.
So let’s do this. You might be asking yourself, “Who is this kinda-snarky dude rambling on about some hippie band?” Well, nobody really, but if there’s one thing I know it’s how to throw some MMJ on the turntable (well, iPod) and play the air guitar when I’m making an omelet. I listen to a lot of My Morning Jacket and, hopefully, that’s the only requirement I really need.
What To Download First: The MyMorningJacket.com forum “Where To Start” is full of recommendations that fall all over MMJ’s discography. Some fans recommend starting at the band’s earliest releases (Don’t) and others with the band’s newest album (Not there either, although you could certainly do worse). The most obvious place to start is also the best. The live album Okonokos (2006) is already six years old but it’s all-encompassing enough that it acts almost as a greatest hits-type of the group’s early years.
Recorded right after Z – which at that point was considered the bands high water mark – Okonokos is two hours of massive guitar riffs and deep grooves. The lyrics are sometimes tough to understand and the lack of crowd interaction hurts the album’s accessibility but you’ll be surprised how often you hear yourself humming the guitar solos. “One Big Holiday” might be the best song on the album and certainy a highlight of the band’s career. Also check out the DVD footage of the concert.
The ideal supplements to Okonokos are probably Z (2005) and Evil Urges (2008). The concert was recorded on the tour for Z and it’s a relief to find that the Okonokos songs don’t lose any of their quality in a cleaner studio setting.The three years that separated Evil Urges from Z ramped up the anticipation to the point that fans could have never been satisfied. The record strays away from the heavy alt-Americana and into Prince-influenced funk with “Highly Suspicious” and the dreamy “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream (I and II).” To new ears, the variety on Evil Urges will be more enjoyable because MMJ’s Neil Young conditioning hasn’t had a chance to set in.Oh, and don’t miss “Aluminum Park.” Or “Remnants.” Or “Two Halves.”
Here’s “I’m Amazed.”
My Morning Jacket Level 2: If Okonokos is the epicenter of a beginner’s experience with the Jacket (a title absolutely no one has used in reference to the band) and Z and Evil Urges are the next degrees the next steps would be Circuital (2011) and It Still Moves (2003). Separated by almost a decade, the two albums sound like releases from entirely different bands.
Where Circuital opens with the freaky “Victory Dance,” – a song lead singer Jim James thought of while laying on an operating table – It Still Moves kicks off with the reverb heavy “Mahgeetah.” “Mahgeetah” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the radio in the ‘70s between Jackson Brown and “Whole Lotta Love.” It says everything about the band that both songs have become staples of My Morning Jacket’s live show.
When Circuital was released last year the song most fans and blogs picked up on was “Holdin’ On To Black Metal,” a track complete with a fuzzy guitar and children’s choir. It’s the standout track on an album that listeners will find gets warmer after each run-through. It Still Moves is an album that’s just as strong. In fact, after a few more albums “Black Metal” will probably still be a concert high water mark next to “One Big Holiday.” Circuital burns like “First Light” and “Outta My System” have already fit snugly in the set list next to “Easy Morning Rebel” and “Gideon.”
Deep Cuts: Jacket’s first two albums The Tennessee Fire (1999) and At Dawn (2001) are inaccessible compared to the rest of the band’s work, although they are essential for die hard. At Dawn in particular offers the first glimpse of what the band proved they’re capable of. It all ends where it began, though, as My Morning Jacket has started selling recordings of their concerts on an official bootleg site. At $10 a pop it’s a price many won’t want to pay in an everything-is-free world but the sound quality (and track listings so far) have made the concerts necessary to have.