James achieves an otherworldly atmosphere with bright electric pianos, a measure of chopped-up beats, and synth tones that are subdued but still dreamy and unusual.
Going solo from an established band often fosters interesting results. Some might say the music sounds like the front man without the rest of the band, and sometimes it’s completely different from the band. In Jim James’ case, Eternally Even somewhat comes off as the ideas that were too weird for My Morning Jacket. However, that’s not to say this sounds like an album missing the rest of the band, as the finished product sound fully recognized and different enough to warrant its own project.
Fusing aspects of folk, indie rock, psychedelic, and analog electronic music, the results come off as an interesting collection of art rock that has more of a droning feel than My Morning Jacket, and almost trip-hop. For instance, in the song “The World’s Smiling Now,” if the tempo were pulled back just a little, this could be a trip-hop jam complete with James’ hypnotic vocals and compelling instrumentation of bluesy guitar leads and dreamy Fender Rhodes riffs. Gorgeous title track “Eternally Even” goes more into the trip-hop territory with its dreamy atmospheric vocals, steady drum beat throughout, layered mysterious synth strings, and droning synth line.
Speaking of the droning synth, it’s hard to tell exactly what they are sometimes. Is it an old analog Moog? Perhaps an old Wurlitzer or Hammond organ? Maybe it’s a Mellotron or Chamberlain. Could it all just be nice digital samples? Or is it a combination of all the above? The soundscapes and textures that James creates throughout Eternally Even make the listen throughout fascinating. There’s a huge electronic element at play here, but it feels incredibly analog and hardly digital. In today’s world of electronic music, everything sounds very streamlined, polished, cold, and digital—the exact opposite of what’s achieved here. It makes the whole effect of Eternally Even feel unusual and trippy, as if it’s from another world or timeline. This droning synth is especially present on the first two tracks, both parts of “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” and the aforementioned closing title track.
A good thing, though, is that Eternally Even isn’t droning through its nine tracks. “Here in Spirit,” while still a downtempo jam, is brighter and more upbeat sounding. However, even on tracks like these, James achieves an otherworldly atmosphere with bright electric pianos, a measure of chopped-up beats, and synth tones that are subdued but still dreamy and unusual.
The only times where the album may feel grating with its droning elements is in the vocal work. While James’ instrumental composition and production may be on point, his vocal composition can take away from it when he goes into a hypnotic and repetitive jam. The songs that bring the most offense are “Same Old Lie” and “True Nature.” While the vocals throughout Eternally Even might teeter between the lines of melodic and repetitiveness, these two songs go into the realm of grating, especially on “Same Old Lie.” However, some might argue the whole album suffers from this problem, and others might say it’s part of the appeal.
Overall, Eternally Even is a charming collection of art rock. Despite any of its shortcomings and its downtempo nature, it’s not a boring album. In ways, I personally find this work to be a little more interesting and engaging than what I’ve heard from My Morning Jacket of late. B- | Michael Cheng