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Album of the Week: Jim James' 'Eternally Even'

On November 7, 2016

by Pranav Trewn


Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Eternally Even, the resplendent new solo album My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.

Eternally Even is the most bitter album of Jim James' career. It's a lamenting decry against political debauchery and the illness of apathy inflicting our collective moral compass, released pointedly on the Friday before Election Day. More specifically, it's a spiritual indictment against Donald Trump and the wake of shameless hostility he's brewed; a deeply felt collection of protest songs that attempts to reach out across the isolating echo chambers we’ve used to divide ourselves, leaving behind fault lines increasingly at risk of fissuring completely. James brews a dense storm cloud of seething soul, spiritually embodying the likes of Sly Stone performing funeral hymns, or Leonard Cohen lurking in the shadows of a jazz club. The album channels outrage through beauty, carefully spoken but without mincing words. It’s damning, but delicately so.

Where the My Morning Jacket frontman has built a career on two extremes — blistering guitar histrionics and stripped-down, ethereal folk — Eternally Even forgoes dynamics and opts instead for a haunting, pulsating hum. It's a sonically rich State of the Union, expertly crafted with burbling synths and crisp percussion that paint in R&B textures and funk flourishes. The sound is an evolution of the elegantly brooding gospel of James’s 2013 solo album Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, but reveling in darker shades and more aggressive instrumentation; a sonic transcription of the overwhelming unease that comes with constantly refreshing a Twitter feed filled with vile and venom to only find new deliveries of it endlessly awaiting you.

Eternally Even oozes anxiety and paranoia; you can practically hear the sweat drip from James’s forehead onto the microphone as he casts away in broad terms our hypnotized hysteria. Every note acts as an exorcism against indifference. Right from the outset, the album exudes a monumental gravity; skulking ominously for two minutes as it draws upon fuming guitars and lurching bass to cultivate an opaque tension. The murky throbbing operates like a long exhale; a precautionary cleansing measure to ward off apprehension-induced rigor mortis. Then James cuts through the monochromatic fog with his first of many admonishments over the course of the LP’s nine tracks: “You don’t know, you can’t see, it ain’t right/ Did you think you could hide in plain sight?”

Even when James and his band allow room for levity, it proves a thin veil revealing his stark ire only more jarringly. Adjacent tracks “True Nature” and “In The Moment” feature the most jazz-oriented instrumentals of the album, the former almost Pink Floyd-ian in its classic rock grandiosity, but James approaches them as canvases to conjure pessimistic ruminations, continuously flirting with the light before cruelly defecting. It’s not an album for uplift, but it offers transcendence nonetheless by revealing the ethos of our current cultural climate: our leaders aren’t accountable, but neither are we, and there’s an overwhelming fascination with principled prophesizing in substitute of actually acting in opposition to looming catastrophes.

The worst is how our riotous indignation can often feel meaningless. Standing on soapboxes only extends your reach so far, and once you step off you’re back down with the rest of the world, and it moves right past you like you don’t exist. As James scoffs on “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 2,” “You can talk about it all you want/ But what the fuck you gonna do?” If that seems accusatory, well, it is. Yet Eternally Even doesn’t go after specific targets so much as it simply bemoans the entire structure we all implicitly occupy. “This world is war and blood/ When it could have been love,” James later sighs on the same song, before finally asking, “Are you willing to forget that this ever happened/ And let a new world start again?”

Rather than draw lines in the sand, defining a spectrum of “us versus them,” James is trying to mobilize a community to the greener grass he knows awaits us on the other side. "If you don't speak out/ We can't hear it," James pleads on album highlight "Here In Spirit," calling to action all other artists and individuals letting their respective platforms otherwise go to waste. Yet Eternally Even is defined by more than simply its message, bolstering its perspective with a resplendent musicality. It's urgent, but more importantly, it's expressive. And when the election finally draws to a close tomorrow evening — this singular battle over but the ideological war still ringing dissonantly in our ears — this is music that will foster the strength to keep facing forward, fervently and fearlessly composed.



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