chorus of Circuital‘s title track,
Jim James sings “Right back in the same place I started out.” While that may be
literally true – this is the first album the band has recorded in its home
state of Kentucky
since 2003’s It Still Moves – it’s not exactly a return to the old days. If
anything, it’s more like the musical version of someone who goes back to his
hometown after a few years away. The town may be the same, but the person
certainly isn’t. So while Circuital has
the warm, folk-based sound that characterized the band’s early work, it also
makes room for the experimentalism of its more recent albums.
the most interesting thing about Circuital – and MMJ itself – is the way it manages to sound completely of a piece, while incorporating
tons of different sounds. Opening track “Victory Dance” sounds like Neil Young
& Crazy Horse performing with an orchestra, while the title track combines
the galloping beat of U2 with Grateful Dead harmonies. There are also steel-guitar
ballads (“Wonderful”), psychedelic funk-rock (“Holdin’ On to Black Metal”) and
catchy, alternate-universe radio hits (“First Light”).
Overall, Circuital is a strong album that stands
a notch below MMJ’s best (Z and It Still Moves). But as anyone who has
seen its live shows will attest, albums aren’t really what this band is about.
There are a lot of songs on here that should kill onstage. For now, think of Circuital as an enjoyable set of coming
attractions for what should be one of the best tours of the summer.
DOWNLOAD: “Circuital,” “First Light,”
“Wonderful” HAL BIENSTOCK