Review: Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Published on February 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Jim James’s first solo album builds on the mix of dark, velvety cinema atmosphere, bang-on pop instincts and satisfyingly shuffling grooves that characterised Circuital, his most recent album with day job band My Morning Jacket, and while we’re at it let’s throw “the best bits of Grizzly Bear and Toro Y Moi” into the What This Sounds Like to Rocksucker saucepan.
When we say that Regions of Light and Sound of God also successfully harnesses many of the best bits of recent vintage MMJ, that’s starting to add up to a fair few ‘best bits’ before we’re even out of the second paragraph of this review. This is because Regions of Light and Sound of God is a flippin’ triumph, a ‘suddenly solo’/’one-man band’ record to rival Gaz Coombes’s effort of last year.
Though existing within the realms of psychedelic pop, James’s singing style is now a ‘classic soul’ kind of assured, and when it’s joined in opener “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” by a bass line that bores down through the mix like the coolest thing in the world, you could almost imagine you’re listening to Marvin Gaye circa-What’s Going On. Not quite, but perhaps the closest James has come to date. The slow-burning build and soulfully staccato vowels – er, yeah, soulfully staccato vowels – are but key players in a stupendous whole, making for one of the most immediately impressive opening tracks you’re likely to hear all year.
James’s ace knack for incorporating unexpected elements without them ever sounding incongruous is well evidenced by the felty blasts of synth and beaming jazzy dissonance that dilate the pupils of the Beck-tinged “Know Til Now”, in which a soothingly monotone sort of cinematic string tension – er, yeah – inhabits the high end of the mix like some blissful dog whistle. An ambient synth fallout leads into more jazzy minor key piano, this time heavily effected to have a kind of sepia tint to it, and proceeds to lay a sassy baritone sax over the top. This is fantastic stuff.
“One egg that split in two we came to be / The dawn of humanity, we were there” he sings with quite immaculate intonation on “Dear One”, with its rhythm section so nonchalantly, melancholically funky, and he may or may not be referring here to his newfound existence as both band member and solo artist. Let’s face it, he probably isn’t, but that won’t stop us shoehorning this feeble attempt at insight into the article, even so far as to base the entire fifth paragraph around it.
“A New Life” is simply gorgeous, its clacking, quick-stepping beat sufficiently low in the mix as to not to distract from the early-’60s intimacy plied on top of it like sonic ice cream. The really sincere delivery of “I think I’m really being sincere” is ridiculously charming, as is ensuing instrumental interlude “Exploding”, the Beatles-y fingerpicking of which acquires shimmeringly reverbed string and flute and introduces a new kind of wonder to the LP.
“Nothing ever stays like it was in the beginning / As time goes through, we must choose to renew / To begin again” sings James on “Of the Mother Again”, and we hope you’ll excuse us for again asking whether that could be a straight-up reference to this new lease of life. Heck, we had “A New Life” two tracks ago. Anyway, “Of the Mother Again” resolves itself as a sublimely good-natured cross between Bill Withers and first-album Apples in Stereo.
“Actress” continues the run of strong opening lines with “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”, carrying over the Bill Withers vibes then substituting them in and out with an instantly winning, descending chord progression. “All Is Forgiven” sounds like Massive Attack’s “Angel” exploring Ali Baba’s cave while listening to Grizzly Bear on its iPod – it departs, suitably, in a puff of smoke – leaving it up to “God’s Love to Deliver” to end proceedings a sweetly impassioned paean to Martin Luther King set to an inquisitive acoustic strum, slipping a banjo in and sending us off on a bewitching note.
Just look at all those superlatives: like we said, triumph.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!
Regions of Light and Sound of God is out now on ATO. For more information, please visit jimjames.com