Regions of Light and Sound of God - ATO
FILTER Grade: 88%
By Nevin Martell on February 25, 2013
For his solo debut, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James turned to a pair of deeply spiritualized works for inspiration. The first was Lynd Ward’s wordless woodcut novel Gods’ Man, which follows an artist unwittingly lured into a Faustian bargain. The other was Marvin Gaye’s soul searing state-of-the-world takedown What’s Going On. Both are unswervingly bone-bare and uncompromising. James’ heady Regions of Light and Sound of God fits alongside them well. Call it a hymnal for those wandering through the modern age in search of enlightenment.
A slight atmospheric hum ushers in the opening track “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” a slow, sonorous lullaby with a dark edge. There’s a nod to a nursery classic as James intones, “And when the dawn brakes/The cradle will fall/And down will come baby/Cradle and all.” The song gradually builds, maintaining its diaphaneity and poise throughout.
For the most part, this entire record is a downbeat affair. At times, it’s so mellow that it makes My Morning Jacket seem like a potential headliner for the next Family Values tour. One exception is “Know Til Now,” a spaced-out disco tune reminiscent of Gaye’s tortured Here, My Dear, which chronicled his failed marriage to Anna Gordy. There’s a continuing parallel to be found with the Motown legend’s darker years on the bittersweet “Actress.” “You’re good at making everyone believe that they love you/A little wink of the eye/A little glimpse of the thigh/And we’re in heaven,” sings James, partly besotted, partly sick with himself for falling in love with a woman he knows is a mirage.
Across these nine tracks, James restrains the soaring, After the Gold Rush vocal work that was his trademark on earlier MMJ songs like It Still Moves’ “One Big Holiday” and “I Needed It Most” from At Dawn. A much wider palate is on display—smoother, more assured—which speaks highly of his growth as a singer over the last decade and a half.
Finisher “God’s Love to Deliver” musically recalls James’ infatuation with George Harrison, which fully manifested itself with 2009’s Tribute To collection of covers released under the since-abandoned semi-pseudonym Yim Yames. Lyrically, this is his Big Message Moment. He begins, “I have a dream/Oh, Dr. King/Well I know what you meant/We were all equal in your eyes, at least/God speaking through you.” It’s a bit much, but it’s somewhat easier to digest since it drips with sincerity.
Taken as a whole, Regions of Light and Sound of God feels almost otherworldly, like James stepped out of space and time for a flash, then returned bearing songs inspired by a place that only he could see. Captivating to its core, it will undoubtedly soundtrack countless mushroom-fueled spirit quests and soul-searching walkabouts for light years to come.