Written by Andrew Howie
James Edward Olliges, Jr. (better known by his stage name, Jim James), is the dynamic, lion-haired, angel-voiced mastermind behind My Morning Jacket. His brooding, soulful, almost oppressively dark yet beautiful music has changed many a fan’s life, including my own. His newest solo album, Eternally Even, shies away from the bombastic intensity of MMJ, and instead delves deep into his heart; a low-key, nebulous, shifting mass of dense synths and Pink Floyd-esque grooves.
Having become a huge fan of Jim James after digging into MMJ recently, I quickly devoured the album, and at first listen it almost seems mundane, but then you notice all the little intricacies and experimental noise he throws in, and once you separate the layers, the composition of it all becomes mind-bending. In the style of MMJ, the many diverse elements making up the melody are none too complicated, but when they come together they create a constantly morphing musical map, mountains giving away to deep valleys of echoing guitar and epic drums. The vocals, while different than his work with MMJ (for instance, he never quite hits those hair-raising howls of his) are quintessential Jim James; he always sounds as though he’s singing through a deep fog of his own making, a mystical sheath that he breathes in and exhales furious sound.
As far as subject matter goes, he follows his heart and sings of social injustice, the corrosive nature of politics, and society in general. I get the sense that James has dealt with some demons in his life, and this record is a perfect example of what I perceive to be his therapy: deep, pensive music that steals your attention and dazzles you with the sheer variety of it. The album feels more like one song spread over nine tracks (indeed, album highlight “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger” is one song split in two), and the lyrics and vocals are more like one continuous story than individual songs. My kind of album for sure.
I would normally say this is a background music kind of record, given the pensive, dark nature of the material and the down-tempo tunes, but there is really so much going on once you notice it that it demands your attention to detail. I can tell this will be in rotation for quite some time now. I’m going to see Mr. James at the Riviera in Chicago next week, and I can’t wait to hear how he shreds this material live. If you’ve seen him before, you know how he commands a stage.
For fans of downtempo electronica, jazz fusion, My Morning Jacket, and fans of music in general, Eternally Even is for you. It’s not a catchy pop album that will get stuck in your head, but it will make you think, and you will enjoy it.
Rating: 9 out of 10