Although 9/11 hadn't yet happened when My Morning Jacket released their second album in April 2001, it feels like a bulletin from a war zone: heartland America, mythologized in songs from Hank Williams'”Lost Highway” to Bruce Springsteen's “Born to Run” to Neil Young's “Harvest Moon,” has become a burned-out industrial shell where kids wander the streets all night, fighting an enemy that isn't there and trying to make sense of what they haven't got. The sonic elements aren't especially new — alt-country infused with record-bin detritus like rockabilly, delta blues, gospel and '60s psychedelia — but the reverb-laden arrangements, wastrel guitar jams and bungled banjo notes hum with a hard-edged loneliness that feels more daring and unsparing than anything in years.
“Xmas Curtain” tosses in steel drum and the high-pitched guitar whine from “Leyla”; “Phone Heads West” slows ska down to sludge. “Lowdown” ought to blare from a parking lot dashboard while the saps dance at the prom inside. Like most of the songs, it isn't about much, except the hope that music and maybe love will make the world more tolerable. “Some say death is the easy way and I think they're right/ 'Cause nights tick by like a long week except when you stop by,” Jim James sings in “Death Is My Sleazy Play.” He's right: an album this sweeping and unflinching does make the world a better place.