Jim James Regions of Light and Sound of God

[ATO; 2013]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: 70s/90s-mining cosmic disco soul rock
Others: Bowie, U2, Abbey Road, Louisville 2013

What’s fascinating about outtakes, live recordings, B-sides, demos, collabs, movie soundtracks, side projects, solo albums, and other material deemed somehow unworthy or too “different” to have placed on a “proper” album release is that they can provide a glimpse into the trials and errors, the experimentations, and the what-ifs of a band’s musical trajectory. And, by their very incomplete nature, they can also make up a kind of unofficial history, perhaps not unlike those “genealogical investigations” that Foucault (by way of Nietzsche) proposed would render for us a more accurate, meaningful, or substantial picture of what had transpired, as remedy to an outmoded and defunct traditional history, which in this case depended upon “the event” or “the archive” to be understood as the album or an official discography.

Indeed, there’s no way that Regions of Light and Sound of God, the debut solo effort from Jim James, the front man of one of the biggest, last-standing “indie rock” bands of the last 10 years or so, could be received without considering My Morning Jacket’s discography, which, given their status, has most likely been relatively scrutinized (such could be the case with any longtime fan hearing it the first time). With Regions, James joins the ranks of Thom Yorke, Julian Casablancas, and Billy Corgan, just to name a random few, in only carefully and calculatedly venturing outside of his band’s musical/sonic comfort zone, at least as far as it’s “progressed.” Like others before him, James can’t resist the tendency for perfectionist, ultra-pristine production; in fact, he actually does go all Prince on us… sort of. He supposedly played almost everything on the album, and he did engineer it all himself, which shouldn’t be wholly surprising, given he served as producer on his full-time band’s first few full-lengths.

But what of the music, then? Regions of Light and Sound of God easily transcends its sleek production value, not allowing it to become a focus or distraction. It is a thoughtful, emotionally genuine, and contemplative musical treatise on love, spirituality, and the life and creativity of the artist (for further information on what was a partial but key inspiration, one needn’t look far for mention of a 1929 graphic novel titled Gods’ Man by a certain Lynd Ward). And Regions is actually made up of the same substance as anything by My Morning Jacket; it just emphasizes certain elements that were previously held back, and if anything, it allows for the band’s, or perhaps just Jim James’, predilection for electronics and soul to not as much take center stage as thoroughly inform its overall sound.

Take the opening track, “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” for example. Even with its emotive pianos, grooves, and James’ bellowing against a backdrop of jam drumming, one couldn’t be remiss in mistaking the song for a My Morning Jacket outtake. There’ll be no mistaking the following “Know Til Now,” however: it’s just the kind of blissed-out, dance-tinged, offbeat gem the member of any fairly successful band who went solo would put out, as if they had just been waiting years to. But elsewhere, James seems to channel some Abbey Road/Let It Be and early Bowie concoction, though in a grungier, more American fashion, on tracks like “Dear One,” “A New Life,” and closer “God’s Love To Deliver,” all of which are evidence that James in fact doesn’t shed his rock influences at all, despite incorporating a more electronic-friendly sound.

Regions of Light and Sound of God ultimately shares most of its DNA, so to speak, with the rest of the known My Morning Jacket discography. Yet it offers an interesting glimpse into some of the band’s characteristic sounds that are usually obscured in the clutter and politics of production and recording, delineating in part Jim James’ tastes and contributions to the band’s overall sound. Solo albums can be a frustrating affair, for both the new solo artist and the listener, particularly when in the shadow of a larger body of work. Regions of Light and Sound of God, however, doesn’t exhibit much of this frustration: even when James seemingly begs for another chance with his former lover on “A New Life,” it’s with a charmed calmness, rather than with any kind of restlessness. James seems to be in a good place, and thankfully for us, he’s managed to capture and translate it quite well into his music.

Links: Jim James - ATO

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