My Morning Jacket, "Circuital"
One of the great glories of My Morning Jacket is the band's ongoing element of surprise. The group carved out a sweet, soaring jam-band niche for itself early on, and keeps toying with that perception. (Witness its challenging 2008 set "Evil Urges.") And while "Circuital" is a return-to-roots of sorts-it's the first album My Morning Jacket has recorded in its Louisville, Ky., hometown since 2003-it packs surprises from the opening notes: an almost comical "Hall of the Mountain King"-type figure that leads into the skulking "Victory Dance." Things become a bit more conventional from there. Throughout the album we find Bacharach-esque backing vocals ("The Day Is Coming"), a lovely melody in the acoustic "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" and the set's most radio-ready track, "Holdin On to Black Metal." The latter song features a horn section and a children's chorus, but isn't the slightest bit heavy metal at all. There's even a sweet, slow soul ballad ("Slow Slow Tune"). Every song on "Circuital" sounds different but is identifiably performed by the same outfit, yet it doesn't retread already-covered ground, either. My Morning Jacket is one of America's most vital bands, a Wilco-style national institution we hope will continue to thrive for years to come.