For some this is a reaffirmation of the greatness of a band they’ve known and loved for years, for most this is an introduction: the most midwestern band—a complement—making music today is called Young Jesus, and they care about you. Hyperbole aside, for half a decade the Chicagoland bred (now) five-piece have been making hyper-literary, deeply felt, and ambitious songs about kids in pain, but for something like two years now they’ve been MIA, leaving their home fans (yo, me) more than a little lost and cold. There were a couple side-projects (one called Bummer, another called Wavepool), but, praise God, Young Jesus has risen from the dead.
Things are a little different now, though. Chicago’s best-kept secret has left Chicago. Now in LA, the band is taking a second stab at things with two new members (Garrison Benson, Eric Shevrin), one new instrument (Shevrin’s keys), and a new album coming this winter. Our first taste of the upcoming LP, appropriately titled Grow/Decompose, is the anthemic beer-to-sky, tear-in-eye lead single, “G”. Like their first album, 2012’s brilliant and criminally neglected Home, Grow/Decompose is a layered and nuanced riff on the concept album that’s not so much concept album (often grandiose and gimmicky) as pure character-heavy and novelistic narrative. “G” introduces us to one of our main, ever-shuffling characters: a sexually/spiritually confused kid named Neil, who comes to prayer and prays to come.
For those who know the band, it’s what we’ve always loved: life-affirming shouts mixed with somber hums, careening drums with moments of reverential stillness. But this is also the band borne-again, and there’s more new and at stake here then a bigger sound from another instrument––though, don’t get me wrong, that instrument sounds pretty fucking good. They continue to write songs about sad folk ODing on themselves, folk in critical need of a little something other than themselves, but now, finally putting their name to the test, there’s an extra-something, an earnestness, a desperation, at play. For one, look at that album cover. That’s vox/guitarist John Rossiter, in drag, playing Neil. It’s bold, gorgeous, and unsettling. It’s the Pentecost that is indie-rock, indie-rock as outsider haven for so many young, confused, and sad, that’s now fully in mind here: it’s like the character’s lives, the band member’s lives, and our lives (depending on who/where we are, obviously) depend on it. That probably sounds like some aggressive horseshit, but indie-rock has always been kind of buoying and cultic, hasn’t it?
Now more than ever Young Jesus bring to mind the warm-cold midwestern tenderness of Let It Be era Replacements, and with their most open-hearted, bullshit free, and gorgeous songwriting yet (Rossiter’s doing), it’s not hard to imagine they’re evoking something like David Foster Wallace’s—another midwesterner—new sincerity project. “G” is just a taste. The album’s full of fuck-up, addiction, nausea-of-the-soul sadness, but Rossiter really does mean it when he tells us, “But I know that we’ll all be OK.”