Saturday, December 29, 2007

ARTICLE: Cobra by My Morning Jacket

I realize that things have been slow around here on Macktronic. As a sort of amends I offer up this article I wrote up for an unnamed rock mag recently at the request of someone I know who was on the inside. Then, this contact left the magazine and as a result, this article was not needed. Therefore, so as not to let it go to waste, I'm going to post it here along with a stream of the song investigated in the piece.

Things to Do While Listening to “Cobra”, a Song by My Morning Jacket, and Why

A number of times in my life have presented an opportunity, most often accompanied by liked-minded friends and a particular refreshment (beer), to argue a central question: one’s personal list of favorite bands, the necessity of such a list, and the validity of my personal list1. Tradition and experience dictates that such a list be limited to 3, 5, or 10 bands and/or artists. However, in my opinion, a list of three is too limited and often populated exclusively by populist sentiment (i.e. The Beatles, Nirvana, and so on). On the other hand, a list of ten proves to lengthy, with the latter additions usually thrown in as an afterthought; not to mention the tendency towards fluctuation of numbers 7 through 10 (driven by indecision or an aging of taste). Therefore, a list of five soon emerges as the clear frontrunner2. Reserved for a later date and time, the particular inhabitants of my list are of no importance to the matter at hand. However, the significance of a specific track and the impact on my list is the point of discussion.

“Cobra”, released in 2002 by Kentucky3 band My Morning Jacket on their Chocolate and Ice EP, is the longest (released) track by any artist on my list. Coming in at exactly 24 minutes and 12 seconds, it rests solidly at the top of my time-sorted collection. Given the historical structure and brevity driven nature of a certain classification (indie rock, as it were) that dominates my particular interests, this is a noteworthy designation. As such, it has led to the following phenomena: structuring activities around the progression of the song. “Cobra” lends itself to such behavior with multiple shifts in tone, interspersed vocals, and changes of tempo. Here I present in list-form (surprise!) a (somewhat) detailed analysis of the track4 accompanied by real-life and suggested activities to be undertaken.

00:00 to 01:01 (The Warm-Up)
As a personal choice geared towards an optimal listening experience, the logical choice of medium is most often vinyl5. Thus, after queuing the track, I often use this period for some deep breathing and minor stretching exercises (as part of my limited personal fitness program). Remembering to pace yourself is of utmost importance, as we have a long road to hoe. A pulsing drum beat, paired with a thematic guitar progression sets the tone.

01:02 to 02:48 (Building I)
At almost two minutes, this section provides an opportune time to pour a beverage6. The first appearance of lead singer Jim James and his identifiable voice: “Cobra comes up next to me”. Indeed.

02:49 to 04:08 (Building II)
There’s a break in between these two vocal sections; while similar in the core elements (vocals, backbeat), there is a distinct shift in tone. An increasing sense of urgency is immediately present, not frenetic, just the sounds of someone beginning to toe the line. This is usually where I subconsciously begin an understated head nod or slight body sway. Results may vary.

04:09 to 05:11(Riding on the Wail)
Prone to such things, James partakes in a minute-long sequence of signature wails. While some listeners might find such an activity therapeutic, I usually pass upon this activity. Instead, I use the time reminiscing. How romantic.

05:12 to 07:18 (Arriving at Midtown)
Another instrumental section, another opportunity for dancing. Graduating from the understated moves outlined above, a pronounced shoulder shrug comes in handy.

07:19 to 09:32 (Breaking a Leg Part I: The Breaking)
This severe transition is accompanied by a sweet drum break. Seeing that we’re properly hydrated and sufficiently immersed in the track, take advantage of the dramatic upping-the-odds guitar solo by multitasking the experience. All of the following are acceptable and encouraged activities: straightening of crooked artwork on the walls, opening of unattended mail, recycling

09:33 to 10:59 (Breaking a Leg, Pat II: The Recovery)
Certainly the section that most recalls space travel, and a welcome respite to the frenetic nature of the proceeding activity, we are now approaching the halfway point. And look at all we’ve accomplished. More often than not an interpretive dance is included here, but be careful of one’s company as they may not appreciate the creative nature of such a venture. Suggested alternatives include short verse poetry and magazine collages. Express yourself.

11:00 to 13:32 (Making of the Peace)
James soon continues with the following lyrics: “Four on the floor and four in the air, I’m drinking cold, cold lightning with the bugs in my hair”. Now, I don’t exactly know what that means, but I can assume that it’s time to replenish my beverage (as it’s usually running low by this point7).

13:33 to 19:10 (Experiencing of the Peace, as Mentioned Above)
The sparse instrumental nature of this mathematically longest segment is oftentimes mislabeled as “slow” or “boring”. But allow me to pose an alternate hypothesis: the prolonged voyage into a bleak, unoccupied landscape is in itself a commentary on the difficult task of creative expression in an increasingly impatient world. As we’ve already reminisced, let us now contemplate8.

19:11 to 23:21 (Explaining of What The Hell Just Happened)
The introduction of a banjo breaks the spell, soon joined by James singing the following line: “Why do my toes always feel so cold? How come? How come? How come?”, gradually increasing the longing with each additional query. Join in this inquisitive display by asking (very) important questions.

23:22 to 24:12 (Presentation of the Package)
Nearing the end of the track, James begins speaking into his feedback-drenched microphone a series of shout-outs and almost inaudible proclamations. An appropriate activity would be rinsing out your used beverage container, simultaneously finishing with the last line of “We out.”

This exercise was meant to shine a light on the multitude of possibilities presented while listening to a song of above-average length. Some might argue that the pure act of listening is adequate, but they miss the boat on a golden opportunity. Don’t settle for mere entertainment! Embrace progress and growth! And while you’re at it, make sure your Top 5 include this band.


1 It may be useful to the reader to understand that I am, according to my education and general temperament, an engineer. Thus, an innate need for lists has burrowed its way into each and every aspect of everyday life. Hence the use of “necessity” above.
2 Possibly owing a nod in the direction of Nick Hornby and his excellent book High Fidelity.
3 Cringing at the geographic pigeonholing of a band (or artist) is a favorite pastime of mine; however, I believe that MMJ actively embraces this fact and does not run the risk of abandoning the adjective in the future (which would certainly stamp this piece as dated).
4 Note that the period are intervals are given titles, as determined by the author, and aren’t anywhere near official
5 For those of you who care about such things, Badman Recordings (Portland) just reissued the vinyl version on a gorgeous yellow/brown splatter 180g pressing.
6 Nothing too fancy, might I suggest a local brew in a frosted mug? MMJ doesn’t exactly lend themselves to complicated drinks (at least in my experience). Bypass the mojitos and cosmos.
7 Please drink responsibly.
8 Note that the dancing may or may not be discontinued, as contemplation and dancing are just as difficult as walking and chewing gum.


Since this song is so incredibly long and is the major component of the EP, it would be unfair to the band to post the entire track. Therefore, I highly suggest you download the track from iTunes or Emusic (links below).

UPDATE: So here's a live cut of Cobra from MMJ's concert at Bonnaroo in 2004. It's nowhere near as long as the album track, but it'll give you a good idea of the mood.

::: My Morning Jacket - Cobra (live at Bonnaroo 2004)

Have you listened to the whole track? What do you think? I'm interested in your thoughts.

[My Morning Jacket official website.]
[Download Music from eMusic; free 25 song free trial.]
[Buy music from Insound.]
[Find/Listen/Download music at The Hype Machine.]
[Photo credit goes to nolessthanthetreesandthestars.]

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