My Morning Jacket are contrarians: Southern rockers who have no truck with Nashville, jam-nation heroes who don't really jam, classic-rock acolytes with indie-rock sensibilities. It's made them a genre of one, and a band that can tap the past without sounding like throwbacks. The Waterfall is their latest case in point — a fusion of synth-wrapped Eighties pop, prog-rock and Philly soul that still connects like a heady MMJ record.
A breakup LP that lands somewhere near acceptance, The Waterfall might be the band's sunniest, and trippiest, album. Bent notes stretch the fabric of these songs like flashbacks. "Tropics (Erase Traces)" opens on an arpeggio recalling Yes' signature "Roundabout" — it's orchestral folk rock with a surprisingly logical psych-metal denouement. "In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)" recalls the Band's "Chest Fever" alongside keytar-style squeals and digital ghost images; "Thin Line" conjures the Stylistics via Pink Floyd. Jim James' high tenor and easy, sublime falsetto remain the band's soul, in both senses. They're especially radiant on "Only Memories Remain," a meditative tune with a burbling guitar solo that feels like a Pacific sunset behind vapor-pen clouds, a perfect balance of the medicinal and the recreational.