Unmetal Monday – 7/13/2020

There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a bi-weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. As is tradition, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:

My Morning Jacket The Waterfall II

In the annals of modern rock music, there are few bands who have carved out a sonic niche quite like My Morning Jacket. Since the release of It Still Moves back in 2003, the band have seen their stock rise considerably, with more than one classic under their belt and a rabid fanbase that packs every venue they perform in. There’s an argument to be made that they are one of the most important acts in rock music over the past few decades, but not all of their output lives up to that pedigree. Evil Urges and Circuital, while fun in their own way, showed the band experimenting in ways that didn’t work as often as they did, heralding that, perhaps, the golden age of MMJ had drawn to a close. 2016’s The Waterfall, however, changed all that. It’s a lush, rich, and comfortably robust effort that catapulted the band back into the lofty stratosphere they previously occupied, making MMJ exciting again. Their follow-up to that album and its direct sequel, the surprise-dropped The Waterfall II, shockingly may be even better. 

In multiple interviews, frontman Jim James (who has a quite stellar solo career on top of his work with MMJ) has detailed the writing and recording sessions for The Waterfall as an explosion of creativity for the band, in which they wrote enough material for three albums. While the album we ended up getting was much more compact and digestible than a potential triple album would have been, there’s always been mystery surrounding the remainder of the tracks shelved during those recording sessions. The Waterfall II goes a great distance to quelling the curiosity of MMJ fans in this regard, as each of the tracks that populate this record come from those very sessions. But these are far from b-side leftovers, as may be expected in this kind of scenario. In fact, these tracks are by-and-large even better than those in The Waterfall, which is both unexpected and very welcome. 

How a band could sit on tracks of this quality for four years is something I’ll never understand. From the record’s spacious, minimalist opening notes in “Spinning My Wheels” (crooned over by James’ signature vocals), it’s clear that this record is going to be comprised of something far richer than a platter of simple leftovers. Vacillating between contemplative pieces like “Still Thinkin” and infinitely danceable, country-fried jams like “Climbing the Ladder”, the record presents a good deal of sonic diversity without ever feeling inconsistent or slap-dash, reintroducing the band with all the aplomb we’ve come to expect from Yim Yames and crew. But that signature diversity is molded this time into a more subdued, contemplative package that is as focused as the band has ever been, while presenting some of the best tracks that MMJ has ever written. “Feel You”, “Magic Bullet”, and “Wasted” rest easy among the band’s highest quality material, making The Waterfall II not only a fitting and powerful sequel, but one of the band’s best records since, well… ever. 

The more subdued nature of The Waterfall II may be a bit jarring for fans of the band’s more upbeat material, but given time I feel confident that it will wind up as one of MMJ’s most celebrated albums. There’s little here to complain about, other than the fact that it sat on the shelf for four years. Nevertheless, it’s here now in all it’s riffy, fuzzy, falsetto-slathered glory, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. A fantastic release from one of rock music’s most treasured and talented acts. 

Jonathan Adams

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