My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket, Live at the Keller Auditorium

Over the years, My Morning Jacket has built a reputation as one of the best live acts in the world, an assertion with which I would emphatically agree, based on the several MMJ concerts I have witnessed over the years.  Though there were a few moments that came close to reaching the peaks of past shows, the overall experience from Wednesday night was more of a mixed bag, with a generally tentative performance that saw the band attempting to shake off some rust in kicking off the fall leg of their tour.  Then again, that may be merely the complaints of an overly pessimistic critic/spoiled fan; it is hard to come away disappointed when you get to hear beautiful rarities like “Bermuda Highway” or rock out to “Mahgeetah” and “One Big Holiday”.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

Perhaps we are speaking from a mild case of bitterness, since as a part of “My Morning Jacket Week” we highlighted the song “Lay Low” and the group’s ability to rip out some amazing covers, and ended the night with neither.  But it does speak to the depth of the band’s catalog that they could leave out staples like “Steam Engine”, “Phone Went West”, or “Dondante” and still construct a solid setlist.  The show was heavy on material from their latest album, The Waterfall, and while there is still a lot to that record that feels underwhelming, the songs do gain an additional spark in a live setting.  The album’s best tracks, “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and “Only Memories Remain”, sound even better live, with the former exploding with energy and the latter stretched to an epic length and augmented by some excellent solos.

The band did not say a word to the crowd the entire night, and frontman Jim James was cautious with his movements, with a slowed-down version of the duckwalk being his sole bit of showmanship (aside from the traditional donning of the cloak for “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2”).  There were a couple of moments where different members missed a line or added a beat, or even failing to figure out when a song should end, and the soundboard had problems with the mix for most of the night.  But there were several moments where everything synced up perfectly, such as the dazzling light display for “At Dawn” or the dip into crowd favorites from the Z era with “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record”.  And once again, the band showed their knack for reworking their older material, with thrilling renditions of “Master Plan” and “Knot Comes Loose”.

A view of "At Dawn" from approximately Hillsboro.

A view of “At Dawn” from approximately Hillsboro.

Opener Strand of Oaks impressed the early crowd and made several new fans that night.  They initially impressed with some excellent metal-leaning chops, and then won over the audience with their tale of driving 31 hours from Champaign, Illinois to make the gig that night to play with their heroes.  They took a risk with some of their more downbeat material that followed, but finished up with a fantastic slow-building closer that had the crowd amped for the main event.

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Covered: My Morning Jacket (Special Edition)

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

Normally, we highlight a specific song for this feature, but this week we are instead celebrating a group’s history of creating fantastic covers.  Over the years, My Morning Jacket has demonstrated an amazing aptitude at covering classics from a variety of genres, from classic rock to metal to pop to R&B.  They have done songs from the likes of The Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath and Lionel Richie, and those are just selections from a couple of shows that I attended.   Each member is a remarkable musician, and Jim James possesses a unique voice that is not only remarkably powerful and emotive, but one that is incredibly versatile as well.  However, no matter how many covers the band may play in a set, each song retains the definitive character of a My Morning Jacket track, which separates them from your typical decent bar band (though they do make for a great wedding band).

One of My Morning Jacket’s most celebrated covers is their take on Eyrkah Badu’s hit “Tyrone”, an early recording that still occasionally pops up in the band’s setlist from time to time.  Instead of analyzing the similarities and differences between the cover and the original, we are merely going to share the video of the time that the two artists joined together to produce a memorably thrilling performance.

Feats of Strength: My Morning Jacket

In honor of their show Wednesday night at the Keller Auditorium, we are declaring this to be My Morning Jacket Week.  Today, we take a closer look at one of their greatest songs, “Lay Low”.

My Morning Jacket broke through with the critically-acclaimed album Z, a diverse record that saw the band expand their sound by incorporating numerous diverse influences (including dub and reggae) into their brand of gothic Southern rock.  Not only was it an artistic triumph, it was a commercial success, as it served as an introduction for many to one of the best-kept secrets in indie rock.  I was personally able to convert many of my friends into fans with the help of both Z and the accompanying live album Okonokos, and they have remained devoted to the band to this day as a result.

The centerpiece of the record is the power ballad “Lay Low”, which endures as a highlight of the band’s live show.  The song is broken up into two parts, a tender, but groovy, first half, and an instrumental outro which features a blistering guitar solo from frontman Jim James.  The brilliant solo itself is an obvious draw, a great blend of musicianship and showmanship–it features a beautiful melody that captivates the audience, while also throwing in a handful of flourishes like a series of quick hammer-ons and deep slow bends, that show off some technical chops without drifting into “wankery”, for lack of a better word.

However, it is how James’s solo is incorporated with the rest of the band that makes “Lay Low” such a great song.  Throughout the solo, the other members are complementing James’s work and laying down an excellent foundation, including Carl Broemel’s second guitar counterpoint melody.  The song’s climax is when all five members lock into this wonderful groove, in a moment that still gives me chills to this day.  It is captured perfectly in the video from Okonokos embedded above, when at the 5:05 mark the camera switches to a center-band shot that zooms out until everyone is in view.

It is not just the solo, but the work of the whole band, that created such a masterpiece.

Shining a Light on Shady Journalism

Over the past decade, we have seen the internet become an integral part of everyday life, shaping and affecting not only our culture but many of our professions as well.  This is especially true of journalism, and not only in the traditional cries of how the Web is killing Print.  The very nature of online publishing has changed the way that journalists write stories and how outlets print them; the ephemeral nature of the media promotes a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach, with speed and clicks being the ultimate goal.  After all, pieces and features can be edited seamlessly behind the scenes–with the web one’s mistakes do not always have to live on (at least without an extra bit of detective-work), unlike print.

The question then arises of when is it okay to use the powers of selective editing, especially since it can so often go undetected.  The site RipFork lived up to its name in blasting Pitchfork for their handling of the new album from Sun Kil Moon, after catching their efforts in switching their review.  I encourage you to read their piece, but for those searching for a quick and dirty rundown, Pitchfork clumsily substituted their review of Universal Themes after an incident where Mark Kozelek called out a journalist onstage in between songs, and the fallout left a lot of music critics with a sour taste in their mouths.  In place of a presumably more positive review, Pitchfork ran a review which was less concerned with the merits of the particular album and instead conducted an inelegant meditation between The Artist and The Art.  As a critique of the music itself, it was not much of one.

We have a different philosophy when it comes to editing posts.  Our policy at Rust Is Just Right is to limit the kind of post-publication edits to only correct grammatical errors or make stylistic changes to clarify our points; otherwise, posts remain as written.  We stand by what we publish, and any modifications we make are done purely to better serve the reader.  For instance, we recognized Sun Kil Moon’s previous album Benji as one of the best of the first half of 2014, and we would never dream of going back and altering our decision.*  And to think, we are not even real journalists!

This controversy brought to mind another instance of this issue that I personally discovered.  At some point the site AllMusic substituted their review of My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves, switching out one that gave the album a mediocre two-and-a-half stars with a more effusive four-star review.  I had some difficulty tracking down any evidence of the switch, finding only a non-updated reference from Metacritic, and I only knew to search out the discrepancy based on my own memory of the initial review.

The discovery of this swap left me conflicted: on the one hand, I have always felt that AllMusic’s role has been to be that of an objective reference source, so I appreciate that the new review reflects the critical consensus of the album; on the other hand, we should not discourage opinions that break from the mainstream, and we are all better for reading heterodox assessments, so there is merit to leaving the original review in place.  As much fun as I have with citing the fact that Robert Christgau still thinks In the City is The Jam’s best album and how he despises OK Computer, I respect the fact that he has not kowtowed to the majority and still supports his opinions.  I am not saying we should reward people merely for being stubborn, but I have a begrudging respect for those that stick to their guns.

The best solution then is probably to at least have a policy of transparency–if you change a review, it is incumbent on the publisher to provide a notice to the reader that a change has occurred, and to give an explanation why a substitution was made.  And since we are talking about the internet, it won’t even be a waste of ink.

*It is interesting to me that Kozelek received much more pushback for his comments directed at Snapes than the entirety of his “feud” with The War on Drugs.  With one, he said that a woman whom he never met (he does his interviews through email) wanted to fuck him after she crossed a line by interviewing his family, and the other he over a series of months directed vitriol to a band with whom he had minimal contact, culminating in recording a song entitled “War on Drugs Suck My Cock”.  One was considered a major sin by the music press, while the other was portrayed as mere bickering, despite the differences in degree.

Personally, the incidents with The War on Drugs left a sour taste in my mouth, and I stopped listening to Sun Kil Moon on a regular basis.  This partly explains why we never reviewed Universal Themes ourselves–since we only review records we seek out and purchase, there was no need to go out of our way and publish our own take on the album.  However, if we were professional music critics, rest assured we would actually do our job as professionals and review the album strictly on its own merits.

Catching Up On The Week (May 8 Edition)

Some #longreads as you make plans for Mother’s Day

In case you were unaware, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, so let this be a reminder to make plans if you have not done so already.  Over the years, there have been plenty of tributes to Dear Mama, though few of them are truly memorable.  The AV Club takes a closer look at an overlooked effort from Menomena, examining the backstory from their album Moms and one of its most personal tracks, “Baton”.

The biggest release of the week was My Morning Jacket’s latest album, The Waterfall.  While we work on our own review of the record, we recommend that you read this Stereogum essay to help provide some perspective, as it analyzes the album not only within the My Morning Jacket discography but in context of trends of the past decade in rock as a whole.

This week’s most entertaining piece was the oral history of the immortal Redman episode of Cribs, courtesy of Thrillist.  Yes, Redman actually lived in that tiny apartment.

Rolling Stone interviewed Dennis Lyxzén to get the story of how after their successful reunion tour that the time was finally right for Refused to record a follow-up to their classic The Shape of Punk to Come, and what to expect from Freedom.

Trunkworthy published an ode to one of our favorite Wilco albums, the underappreciated Summerteeth.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite records, and hopefully when Wilco stops by later this summer they play more than a few cuts from it.

Over the Weekend (May 4 Edition)

News, new music, and videos as you recover from the decadence and depravity of this past weekend

Alabama Shakes has had a busy week: not only did they receive a rave review from this publication, but they learned that their album Sound & Color debuted at number 1, the first time they have earned such an honor.  To top it off, the band released the superb music video for the album’s title track, a subtle, heartrending tale that takes place in the unlikely setting of a spaceship.

It was a busy week for late night performances, with Modest Mouse stopping by Jimmy Kimmel Live, My Morning Jacket stopping by The Tonight Show, and Blur making their first US TV appearance in over a decade.  Blur has been hitting the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic, having recently stopped by Later…with Jools Holland to perform selections from The Magic Whip and also talk to the man himself.  Though the shows were broadcast previously in the UK, it was only recently shown here in the States on Palladia, so please forgive our tardiness.

We have been keeping you informed about the updates from Tame Impala about their new album, and now we can share that Currents has an apparently official release date of July 18th.  In addition, the band has released another track, the quick and punchy “Disciples”.

This afternoon, The Chemical Brothers released a music video featuring Q-Tip and directed by Michel Gondry, for a track called “Go”.  Yes, it still is 2015 and not 1998, for the record; the track appears on their upcoming album Born in the Echoes, which will be released July 7.

Finally, the music world suffered terrible losses this week, with the passing of Jack Ely, lead singer of The Kingsmen, and the legendary Ben E. King.  Portland’s connection to the recording of “Louie, Louie” makes Ely’s passing difficult to hear, and of course everyone is well aware of King’s contributions for The Drifters (“This Magic Moment”, “Save the Last Dance for Me”), as well as his immortal hit, “Stand By Me”.  They will be missed.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwZNL7QVJjE=

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 24 Edition)

Some #longreads while you contemplate how a newspaper can bungle a headline so badly

It has been a busy week for new releases, and one of the albums we here at Rust Is Just Right have been enjoying this week has been Speedy Ortiz’s latest record.  Before you check out our review of Foil Deer next week, it probably would be a good idea to read up on the extensive profile that Pitchfork published yesterday.

This has been a busy spring for new music, and it is not going to let up any time soon.  One of the big upcoming releases that we have mentioned before is My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, which will be hitting stores in less than two weeks.  Rolling Stone talks to the band about the recording of the new album.

Deadspin has a short piece introducing readers to the site that takes a satirical look at the punk scene, The Hard Times.

The AV Club has a piece that dissects how the Wu-Tang Clan defied conventional thinking in the way the group was able to release several successful solo albums from its members.

Finally, The New Yorker has a detailed and fascinating look at the mechanics of the early days of music piracy, which serves as an excellent complement to this Pitchfork examination of how the economics of music have evolved over the years.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 10 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend as you avoid the clusterfuck in the desert and watch the Coachella livestream…

On Wednesday, Rust Is Just Right will publish its long-awaited list of the Best Albums of 2014.  Our newer readers may wonder why we are releasing our picks so late relative to the rest of the music world, but rest assured, we will provide our very good explication along with our list next week (or you can go back into the archives and see last year’s list to see our reasons).

Next Saturday is Record Store Day, which is perfect timing for our readers, since in addition to visiting your local record shop to peruse all the special goodies on sale that day, you can pick up some of our recommendations from our Best Albums list.  Dave Grohl is serving as the Record Store Day ambassador, and Rolling Stone talks to him about the holiday and the special release that the Foo Fighters cooked up for the celebration, featuring some very, very early home recordings from Dave.

Independent labels are a significant part of Record Store Day, and one of our favorite labels that was one of the scene’s earliest successes was Seattle’s Sub Pop.  VNYL talks to Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about the early history of the label as well as some of his favorite records.  On a related note, while not directly affiliated with Sub Pop,* the supergroup Temple of the Dog came from the same Seattle scene,  and fans may be interested to note the legal battle over the master tapes of their only album.

As much as I love Pavement, I never embraced Wowee Zowee as much as some other fans (though it has grown on me a bit over the years).  So it is for the benefit of those fans that we are linking to not one but two appreciations for the album’s twentieth anniversary, one from Stereogum and the other from Consequence of Sound.  The retrospective that got my attention was for another album–last week was the twentieth anniversary of a wildly different classic, 2Pac’s Me Against the World.

For those of you who enjoyed our review of the fantastic new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, Asunder, Sweet and other Distress, I recommend checking out this old interview from last year from Self-Titled with guitarist and “leader” Efrim Menuck, which provides some welcome insight into the workings and motivations of the group.

We have talked several times before about the much-anticipated release of My Morning Jacket’s new album, and Steven Hyden of Grantland helps add to the hype with this piece.

Jello Biafra always provides a great interview, so it is probably worth your time to read what he has to say to Janky Smooth.

And finally, if you’re looking to kill some time this weekend, check out this list from the AV Club of bands that broke up as soon as they hit it big.  You have enough time to listen to their entire discographies in a single weekend!

*Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron were however at one point signed with Sub Pop with their main gig in Soundgarden, so an indirect connection does exist.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 6 Edition)

New videos and other fun stuff as you fill in the hours around the NCAA championship game…

Lots of new songs and videos to get through this week, so let’s get straight to the action.  After announcing a North American tour and releasing a new track (the groovy epic “Let It Happen”), Tame Impala has finally revealed some details about their followup to the fantastic Lonerism.  The album Currents will be available later this year, and to help celebrate the news the band released another track, the slow-burning “‘Cause I’m A Man”.

My Morning Jacket continues to leak out new songs from their upcoming album The Waterfall, sharing the ballad “Spring (Among the Living)” last week.  My immediate reaction was to say that it is a more dramatic version of “Victory Dance” from Circuital, but with a seriously ripping guitar solo.

Kendrick Lamar is doing the rounds in promoting his album, which involves things like talking to MTV about the origins of the album title to doing radio interviews discussing how he did the Tupac interview that closes To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as announcing his engagement (congrats, btw).  Kendrick also released the music video for the new album’s latest single, “King Kunta”, which features a performance in his hometown of Compton.

The National have shared a previously unreleased track from the Trouble Will Find Me sessions, a song called “Sunshine On My Back” that features Sharon Van Etten on vocals.  The band explained in a Facebook post various options for people to purchase the track.

Most of us were not able to make it down to Austin for SXSW this year, but NPR is doing us a real solid favor by hosting video of TV on the Radio’s performance at the festival.

Legendary punk rockers Refused announced a new tour last week, this time emphasizing smaller venues.  If you are unaware how much we love the band, you should take note that the header photo that graces this site comes from their reunion show at the Roseland from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, though it would have been amazing to see them perform at the Doug Fir, tickets sold out in about two seconds, so it is unlikely RIJR will be able to review the show.

Maybe our inability to purchase tickets was due to the fact that we forgot to post the latest Run The Jewels video.  Killer Mike and El-P released the video to the fantastic “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” which features a memorable appearance from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.  Enjoy the symbolism.

And finally, watch another one of those “let’s see what today’s teenagers know about the 90’s” videos.  This one has kids listen to various 90’s songs, and for the most part they didn’t do too badly.  I can forgive these guys for not knowing Ace of Base or how the non-rockers were unfamiliar with Tool’s “Sober”, but it pains me that so few knew who Coolio was or could identify Green Day’s first big hit.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 9 Edition)

News, new music, and videos as you adjust to daylight at strange hours this week…

We had been passing along scraps of news and filtering through rumors for months, even relying on shaky fan-shot videos, but we finally have new music from My Morning Jacket.  Last week, the band released the joyous “Big Decisions” from their upcoming album The Waterfall, which is set to hit stores in early May and is the first of two planned releases from these recording sessions.

We probably could have fit the MMJ news into last week’s post, but we have no excuse for neglecting to share Built To Spill’s new song.  The multi-part guitar-centric “Living Zoo” from the upcoming Untethered Moon sounds like classic Built To Spill, which is undeniably a good thing.

The biggest news of the weekend however was probably the announcement of the release date for Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up to the brilliant good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and luckily it is only two short weeks away.

Our regular readers know how difficult it is to pass up on any Spoon news, so they shouldn’t be surprised that we’re linking to their performance from “The Takeaway Show”.  It is definitely worth watching this unique, intimate performance as Britt presents stripped-down versions of “Inside Out” and “I Just Don’t Understand”.

If there was any song that required a thirty-minute analysis of its musical structure, it’s probably “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.  Luckily, a video of such analysis exists.  There are probably worse ways to kill half an hour, but then again, the very fact that we mentioned the song means you’ll have it stuck in your head for at least that long anyway, so you should probably learn the reason why.  After the lesson, treat yourself to the “literal version” of the video.

Most cat owners are aware that their feline companions do not particularly care for music, and probably chalked up the reason as to the fickle nature of the cat.  However, The Atlantic has alerted its readers to some important research that has taken place that has determined that it is in fact possible for cats to enjoy music.  They just don’t like most human music.

And finally, enjoy the latest track from M.I.A.–after initially informing fans that she would release “All My People”, she switched gears and offered the groovy, mid-tempo “CanSeeCanDo” instead, a song that fans of Matangi should appreciate.