Try this ‘Jacket’ on for size

Mike Morrone

Intuition told me that “Z” by My Morning Jacket was a more than viable option for my list or any Albums of the Year list. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive this album until Dec. 25 (thanks, Mom). Like the old cliché says, “Patience is a virtue.” Surely, one will not have to be too patient to enjoy “Z,” a fine edition to the oeuvre of Jim James and his cohorts in My Morning Jacket. “Z” begins with the sprawling “Wordless Chorus.” Slight studio effects, such as a ringing alarm clock and a Doppler Effect-esque whoosh of sound, compliment Jim James’s echo laden vocals. It seems as if James and Co. are looking to make a statement, and there is nothing quite like, “We are the innovators/they are the imitators.” As the song climaxes over its wordless chorus, James successfully fails at mimicking Prince (of all people) with his wordless falsettos.

The band is deft at conveying meaning through its soundscapes. “Gideon” takes seemingly oblique swipes at the current state of world affairs: “Truly we have become hated and feared for something we don’t want.” The echo-laden vocals resonate and entwine with a melody that seems like a Coldplay reject, yet the results are better and more redeeming.

“What a Wonderful Man” is unabashed in its praise for, of all people, Jesus Christ. An intro of jangling pianos segues into a tight mix of rhythm and guitar. The cohesion of musical parts trumps the offerings of past MMJ releases, demonstrating a steady evolution of arrangement and comfort among the players, which is admirable since the band has endured multiple personnel changes since their previous record, “It Still Moves.”

Lead single “Off the Record” is particularly strong. The brief guitar intro gives way to a loose, dub-inflicted feel. James, stripped of his echoes, delivers the music seemingly free of irony, essentially pleading for clarity and direction. (It can be said that sometimes he and his band mates do not deliver on such pleas.) Just when the single seems to be winding to a close, the extended outro meanders, accompanied by new keyboardist Bo Koster’s complimentary contribution.

After this, the goofy “Into the Woods” derails some of the album’s momentum, despite contributions from lo-fi troubadour M. Ward, and Andrew Bird, formerly of Squirrel Nut Zippers and lately of critically acclaimed albums such as “The Mysterious Production of Eggs.” In this song, the comparisons to the “Americana” conjured by Neil Young become apparent.

The end of the album is more than serviceable. You’d swear you had heard songs, such as “Lay Low,” one thousand times before, even if you can’t place the similarities as quickly and conveniently as you would like. They aren’t objectionable, even if they aren’t as immediately catchy as earlier tracks like “Off the Record.” The album’s closer, “Dondante,” is a quiet storm of trademark My Morning Jacket dynamics: a plaintive voice matched with slight percussive compliments and elusive guitar. “Dondante” comes across as an accessible tribute to a fallen friend (This is how it is done, The Mars Volta.) Sonically and structurally it is comparable to a mid to later period Wilco or the aforementioned Young.

Overall, “Z” is a worthwhile listen, demonstrating the appeal of a mix of musical elements that everyone has experienced ten thousand times before. I could be corny and ask rhetorically, “What comes after ‘Z,'” but instead I will just recommend the album without reservation.