My Morning Jacket

Z (ATO/RCA)

If 2003's It Still Moveswas the album that showed why My Morning Jacket was ready to play stadiums, Z is the one that proves they deserve lasers and smoke machines. While the band's music has always walked a fine line between twang and space-rock, Z sees them stretching out their arrangements further into the cosmos than ever before, with Jim James' voice aiming upward like a rocket ship. While none of the songs here are as classic-sounding as "Golden" or as rocking as "One Big Holiday," every one of the 10 is impeccably crafted, resulting in the band's most cohesive (and succinct) album. "Wordless Chorus" opens the record with a low, lurching keyboard part, contrasting perfectly with James' reverb-laden croon, while " Into the Woods" is MMJ at its weirdest, featuring James sweetly singing "A kitten on fire/A baby in a blender" over a creepy circus organ before morphing into a one-man Russian military choir. Single "Off the Record" is the best slab of reggae-rock recorded since the Clash, taking a riff from Hawaii Five-0 and marrying it with one of James' catchiest melodies, but "Knot Comes Loose" proves James can still write a classically styled acoustic stunner, slowing down the ship and breaking out the bongos for a campfire-style jam on the rings of Saturn.

 
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