Jim James: Uniform Distortion
“I’m motherfucking out of my mind,” Jim James barks on “Yes to Everything,” a ragged classic-rock anthem from his third solo LP. The dude ain’t kidding. Uniform Distortion , like much of the singer-songwriter’s work, is fueled by the thirst for cosmic spiritual truths. But unlike anything else in his catalog, this one’s unsettlingly unhinged: filled with demo-worthy fidelity and disarmingly sparse arrangements, undercut with an inescapable feeling of madness. On first listen, many of the songs feel half-baked, undercooked—the product of a spontaneous four-track freak-out session. But the emotions lurking underneath have been brewing for decades. The album originated from a deep modern anxiety, one that James illuminated in his letter to photographer Duane Michals, whose literally mind-blowing 1971 image graces the jacket cover. “I have been feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the speed of technology and its place in our lives,” James wrote. And Uniform Distortion is the raw-nerve result of that dread. The grimy, guitar-centric sound is a complete 180 from the lush, electro-tinged R&B sprawl of 2016’s Eternally Even and the lonesome, reverby folk of 2017 covers LP Tribute to 2 . James fills these 11 compact tracks with squalls of feedback, primal power chords, and madcap, edge-ofdelirium laughter. It’s a strange combination: His simplest songs, constantly on the verge of collapse. But if given a wide enough digestion period, the unruly approach takes on an appealing symmetry. This is James letting his hair all the way down, without the ornate psych-rock trappings of modern My Morning Jacket. Fans of the band’s It Still Moves era will find a touch of their patented yearning, out-in-the-barn glow in the soulful, Southern, Fleetwood Mac ambiance of “No Secrets,” the daydreamy harmonies of “Throwback” and the metallic stoner twang of “No Use Waiting.” The album may have arisen from a dark sense of isolation, but James remains an eternal optimist in the face of anguish. “When we were young, all the potential in the world,” he belts on “Throwback.” In an era of perpetual division, of “uniform distortion,” he’s still chasing the narcotic thrill of human intimacy. Sometimes you have to go a little crazy to get a little sane.