Published Oct 05, 2018If Jim James' third solo record, Uniform Distortion, was a bright ball of light, chaotic and reckless, Uniform Clarity is something of an aftereffect. Here, James reimagines Uniform Distortion as stripped-down and acoustic, capturing the embers at the heart of his previous effort with a quiet group of songs ripe for dedicated fans, though one that fails to elaborate substantively upon its original material.
Sharing a revised version of an album in the same year as the original's release comes with a certain expectation upon the latter to make a case for its existence. In the case of Uniform Clarity, James explains that the new album moves away from the chaos of the earlier record, unearthing the "flawed beauty of what a song starts off as or sometimes remains." The potential of this concept comes through in several moments, namely on highlight "You Get to Rome." Breathy intimacy allows the nuance of James' voice to crystallize more affectingly than on the original, while hints of frayed feedback tack on the patchwork, inchoate quality of a rough draft with touching humility.
For the most part, however, the concept of reducing these songs to an acoustic level never quite matches the vitality or power of the original; Uniform Clarity's added calm often feels needlessly mismatched with the frenetic anxiety of the lyrical subject matter. Two additional songs released with the record, "It Will Work Out" and "Flash In the Pan," are solid guitar-plucked tracks, though ones that never quite meet the standard of the album's other material.
Ultimately, Uniform Clarity reiterates that immutable fact already demonstrated on Uniform Distortion: Jim James is a great songwriter. This revised version offers fans a chance to listen closely to those musical constructions, at their most skeletal, revealing an often wondrous gestation process: just one that never quite compares to its own final product. (ATO Records)