Darla / Play It Again Sam, 2001
Psychedelic pop or acid country-rock?
How important is it that a record sounds good technically and production-wise? If you feel it's important to have decent sound it's very possibly your first impression of this band from Louisville in Kentucky will be somewhat ruined. My Morning Jacket does possibly make a handful of technical mistakes in almost every single song on this album, but all the same it's an album that may frequently be on my play list this summer.
At Dawn is the second long-player from this band, but from what I gather it's the first time they're available in this country. They're for the most part unknown also in their home country, and have only toured there a few times. But in the BeNeLux countries it's a different story! There the band has toured a handful times, had their debut on the albums of the year list, and been the subject of a rockumentary on TV.
My Morning Jacket play a kind of askew country-rock which in comparison makes one wonder how it would have sounded if Neil Young and Neutral Milk Hotel had recorded some songs together. The band's ramshackle musical sound gives associations to the Elephant 6 collective in Athens Georgia which has produced lo-fi heroes like Olivia Tremor Control and the aforementioned Neutral Milk Hotel. Jim James's voice has the same trembling honesty and longing which permeates the expression of an artist like Neil Young.
But, it's too easy to discard My Morning Jacket as copyists. Their musical sound seems both honest and emotionally charged. Their sound becomes evident for the listener already from the album's first track, At Dawn. With a half-mysterious intro they open with a quiet acoustic guitar before James calmly screams out with his longing vocal chords towards the listener. Even if it may sound wrong, it still feels right and one quickly nods along with the music which is permeated by light country-rock in combination with the band's beautiful pop melodies.
But not everything's right on At Dawn. Some of the guitar solos and instrumental passages become a bit stale or boring, and seem forced in their political correctness. Other times they still manage to convey such progressive passages in an outstanding way. Like, for instance, in Strangulation. What is a bit surprising is the relaxed way the band shifts between almost lyrical country melancholy, like in Bermuda Highway, and more rock-oriented blues-rhythms, like in Honest Man. They are no strangers to these kinds of shifts within the same song either, like on the aforementioned Strangulation, and one is left with a surprisingly positive impression of My Morning Jacket.
The album's sleeve arouses curiosity the first time one listens to At Dawn. With a cut and paste effect which can be recognised from American lo-fi rockers (like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.) they give the listener the impression that one is about to walk down unknown paths. At the same time there are associations with older heroes from '70s acid rock. Nice.
When all's said and done My Morning Jacket end up relatively high on the list. Maybe because this reviewer had no expectations whatsoever to this album. Or maybe because it embraces, and melts together, two of my favourite musical genres; country and lo-fi. At Dawn is a beautiful record within its segment, and is undoubtedly a strong album. At Dawn is an album for those who like rock with cowboys in their eyes and with focus on the melodies (not the production).
Mats Johansen, Panorama Musikk © June 2001
Translation © Jan Erik Justesen, July 2001
The original Norwegian version can still be found at the Panorama Musikk website.