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Jim James - Uniform Distortion (Album Review)

Thursday, 05 July 2018 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Justin Tyler Close

On Jim James’ third solo album, the My Morning Jacket bandleader has dispensed with indie psychedelia in favour of straightforward, gutsy rock tunes. The result is a record of tight musical elements, with a consistently radio-friendly sound, that falls flat when compared to more innovative releases by better rock songwriters.

One reason that’s the case: ‘Uniform Distortion’ sounds pretty dated from the off. James is a musician who has a clear - if not quite distinctive - approach to arrangement, and his decision to record the album as a three-piece (drums, guitar, bass and voice) with three backing singers gives it a cogency that marks it out from many of his previous releases.

But the compositions are just so pedestrian. Tracks come and go with relative anonymity; chord changes are predictable, vocal melodies tick over and the musical structures - though detailed- rarely raise an eyebrow.

Like Dan Auerbach’s ‘Waiting on a Song’ from 2017, the album operates better as a case study in James’ production and arrangement skills than as a recording artist expressing their ideas.

There are a couple of decent moments, though. All In Your Head has a spacey patience and musical integrity that works well for the most part. But it’s undone by James breaking into laughter during the second verse, which happens a few times.

A singer corpsing on a track can go a few different ways. At best it works as a natural piece of vocal punctuation, cutting through the music with spontaneous joy. At worst, it feels like contrived and convoluted piece of self-referential marketing, as though they are saying 'Look at how much fun I'm having' unconvincingly. Here it's the latter.

All of which makes for a pretty dull listen. James is a fine talent and his catalogue is developing into a broad and deep one, but ‘Uniform Distortion’ is not a good album. It represents exactly why young people aren’t listening to guitar rock any more.





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