by Joel Parmer (@cup_of_joel)
Young Jesus doesn’t get lumped into typical genres and “FFO” tags very often. They are four musical boundary pushers possessing a sharpened, unique set of characteristics to the way they jam. Complete with a philosophical backing, their music surges through moments of calculated improvisation and engulfing lyrical depth. But as for many bands, they’ve grown into their individualistic sound.
Starting out in Chicago around the cusp of 2010, Young Jesus built a small arsenal of releases in their formidable years: three EP’s and two albums. Members fluctuated and aspirations almost dried into concrete. Honestly, they came kind of close to sounding like the batch of indie rock/emo revival bands of the time. But they challenged the movement, adding in introspective extras here and there.
Young Jesus has always been a great band and the merit of their earlier years is by no means tarnished by comparisons. Undertones of what was to become of Young Jesus are scattered all over their early releases. Take for example, the thought-provoking banter in the intro to their Young, Innocent, & Hairy EP, with trickling layers of spoken words: “People don’t get lectures on environmental ethics here.”
Around the time of their 2017 S/T release, Young Jesus really developed their defining characteristics. Two of the members transplanted to Los Angeles prior to the S/T so it’s not too far fetched to think the band starting anew and moving across the country had at least something to do with their revitalization. Everything was becoming tangible. Along the way, Saddle Creek Records picked up the band and re-released the Young Jesus S/T. The four current members just click together. Which brings us to present day Young Jesus and the band’s most recent release from last October: The Whole Thing Is Just There.
John Rossiter sings and plays guitar in Young Jesus. He’s an original member, core songwriter, and excellent dancer of the group. Rossiter functions as the only guitarist in Young Jesus and primary vocalist, but never cuts corners with either role. The only other member to move from Chicago to Los Angeles with Young Jesus is keyboard player and backup vocalist Eric Shevrin. Armed with two immaculate Nord stage keyboards, Shervin’s playing encompasses traditional piano tones, untraditional synth patches, and at times theremin-like qualities.
Marcel Borbon contributes a thunderous bass playing style to the band. He gets more volume than most out of plucking the bass with fingers and a direct-to-amp approach. Meshing perfectly with Borbon, Kern Haug handsomely hammers away on drums. His playing style transitions between hard-hitting fortes and zoned out rhythmic sections that let listeners catch their breath.
Together, these four put their hearts and souls into their new record. The six songs on the album clock in at about 50 minutes, and vary drastically in length. It’s difficult to classify Young Jesus in simple genre-based terms, but The Whole Thing Is Just There surely constitutes as art rock.
The philosophical nature of the release incorporates itself mostly from a lyrical point of view, but also through improvised jam sections. The Saddle Creek bio for Young Jesus helps put this into perspective and reveals where they borrowed the name of their record:
“In the 1980 documentary "Philip Guston: A Life Lived," the famed neo-expressionist talks about a painting he keeps starting over. "It looked alright—but it felt to me as if it were additions—this and that and that," he says. "What I'm always seeking is some great simplicity where the whole thing is just there."”
While dabbling heavily in improvisation, The Whole Thing is also atmospheric, somewhat in the vein of post-rock. The members disconnect themselves through their music, and present a free flowing stage presence in live settings.
The album opener “Deterritory” approaches rebuilding and suffering associated with stagnant mindsets. The song has a formula which introduces a catchy repetitive riff that will later resurface itself. After a noodly buildup containing a slowly accelerated bass line, the lyrics chant: “It’s not enough to hate the world we live within.”
The next song, “Saganism vs. Buddhism” slaps in after a vast, vibey piano passage and a pop of guitar strumming. The song builds to a fairly heavy section where Rossiter’s pushes vocals into near scream: “Living in my own 28 year old, lizard eye-like life.” This is one of many moments where Rossiter’s chops—as both a singer and guitarist—are articulated.
Swelteringly singing his vocal range catapults while still remaining controlled. His guitar rig involves no effects pedals at all, opting to plug directly into an amp. But the way Rossiter uses an amp’s reverb, elaborate playing techniques, and sparse guitar tremolo arm convinces the ear that effects are in some ways irrelevant.
Later in the album, “For Nana” showcases a surprisingly accessible song for the band. Written by Rossiter after seeing his grandmother pass away, the track circulates around the concept: “I won’t see you anymore.”
“Gulf” monstrously closes The Whole Thing, at just over 20 minutes in length. Containing several improvised sections, “Gulf” is a chameleon of a song. I saw them close a set with this track while they were on tour with IAN SWEET last year, and would guess the length was more like 25 minutes live. Specifically, there’s an improvised acapela section buried in “Gulf” that’s unlike anything else.
I’ve had The Whole Thing in my hands since it came out last year. The art rock release is truly one of those albums that gets better with each listen. My fiance preordered the album, and despite it being about six months old, The Whole Thing still makes its way our turntable constantly. Fine details and new distinctions constantly surface due to the the improvisation sections, philosophical nature of the lyrics, and the overall bizarre uniqueness of Young Jesus.