On Circuital's pedal steel-laced fifth track "Outta My System," our narrator, as played by Jim James, laundry-lists the bad ideas he's indulged, from smoking drugs to stealing cars, and is relieved after the resulting prison stints to have gotten it "out of his system." Now he can enjoy the simpler pleasures of life, like marriage and domesticity.
Not to draw too close a comparison between subject and creator, but Jim James also seems to have gotten a few things out of his system. His supergroup Monsters of Folk, with M. Ward and Conor Oberst, and his intimate EP of George Harrison covers found him indulging his rootsier side. He also allowed himself more than a few weird divergences on My Morning Jacket's 2008 album Evil Urges. But longtime fans of the Louisville band, take heart: The demons have been exorcised. No more of the pulsing disco grooves that characterized "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt.2"'s or the white-boy funk-as-fronted-by-Grover that was "Highly Suspicious."
Which is not to say that Circuital, the band's sixth album, harkens back to their earliest work. In fact, it's sonically as far from the haze of It Still Moves and Z as Evil Urges was, the telltale reverb that once shrouded the band all but burned off. Take the raucous, punch-drunk "Holdin' on to Black Metal." Hardly an exercise in Norwegian doom, the song instead borrows its structure from an obscure Thai pop song (Kwan Jai & Kwan Jit Sriprajan's "E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai" to be exact). James and crew then proceed to blast it with swinging Stax horns and a children's choir, resulting in one of the band's most audacious and rewarding songs to date.
The title track shows new bucks like Fleet Foxes how it's done: It's gorgeous and spacious, but still full of hooks. The band is even more assured on slow-burners like the aptly-named "Slow Slow Tune" and piano-laced closer "Movin' Away." When James croons: "Moving away/ Oh where I will go," one can only guess where they might end up.