For fans of: The Promise Ring, Speedy Ortiz, Belle & Sebastian, hopeful sad songs, Pete and Pete
The opening song to Young Jesus’ 2015 sophomore effort Grow/Decompose, “G,” details the app hookup of Neil, a transvestite if not a closeted trans woman, meeting a man who “says his name is Paul” at a motel. The song is a mission statement of sorts for the whole album, showing us two people who are wearing masks throughout their days and stating nothing particularly sad but exemplifying why these two men are probably deeply unhappy with their lives. By the third verse, bellowed more than sung, both characters are gone, replaced by a universal commiseration. “We all grow and decompose just the same” yells principal songwriter John Rossiter before expressing a tempered optimism.
You may have heard of Young Jesus a few years back when they were the second-coming of Chicago indie dominance. Their 2012 LP, Home, a concept album about two young addicts, shares that same sort of false-warmth-in-the-cold feeling of Nothing Feels Good or Let It Be (Replacements, obviously). In a lot of ways I like it better than Grow/Decompose, its music is sad in a hopeful way and considerably more fun to listen to. If I were driving back to my alma mater for a friendly drunken meet-up, I would play Home before I would play Grow/Decompose, but only because I think it would depress me less.
“Depressed” might give you the wrong impression, though. Now reassembled in Los Angeles after a prolonged hiatus, the band has shaken off their demons, and it has apparently freed up their arms to strum a lot harder. Hot damn, this album kicks ass. It’s an album that feels like a relentlessly hot and muggy summer, like the Mr. Tasty episode of Pete & Pete, desperately in need of something to give, to snap with a deafening sound, but everything is too melted together to make a clean break. It’s an album of self-destructive habits, perennial fuck-ups, and the despair of being way past your presumed breaking point and still no where near your actual breakdown
There is a strange kinship with Belle & Sebastian. Rossiter’s characters are just as morose as Stuart Murdoch’s, though the people and sadness in Grow/Decompose are distinctly American— similar to how both Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and The Devil and God are called “the American OK Computer.” Both Young Jesus and Belle & Sebastian write short story collections, not quite concept albums but still interconnected. Rossiter’s characters are all putting on their bravest faces as they pretend they can do this by themselves, but they are all terrifyingly lonely, in need of something greater that they can never quite seem to identify. The music is frenetic, anxious, and bipolar, as likely to drop as it is to go ballistic. From what I’ve read, it’s hard for Rossiter to listen to, and I can imagine why. Fiction writers become good at hiding themselves in their characters. It’s the only way to write what you know.
Get the latest from Young Jesus on their Facebook page and keep an eye out for the re-release of Grow/Decompose on vinyl later this year!