The Fine Line Between Brilliant and Sleepy

If you know me and I enjoy your company, I’ve probably tried to push Jesu on you in the last year. Most of my friends can attest to this, probably with a little eye rolling in the middle of that attestment. In a way, I understand the main criticisms of Jesu: the music is too slow and plodding, boring, and already been done by way of the Cure’s Disintegration. And obviously if you have a low tolerance for drone music/drone metal/shoegaze/ whatever the fuck they’re throwing around, you’re not going to get into Jesu. But even if there’s the slightest itch in you to look past almost intentionally slow and melancholy trudging of almost all of Jesu’s work, you’ll be likely to discover the rich melodicism and beauty that lie underneath the majority of Jesu songs. While the music has gone above a snail’s pace to a snail’s brisk walk only once (Silver‘s “Star”), the music creates a gorgeous landscape every time; in fact, the longer the song, the broader the strokes on said landscape. In many ways, Jesu are admittedly a hard sell. But it drives me crazy still that more people aren’t buying into them. Jesu’s fanbase, from my experience, is me and 8 rock critics.

As with Justin K. Broadrick’s (Jesu’s mastermind/master of dirges) previous project and most well-known one up to this point, industrial metal kingpins Godflesh (kingpin being used due to the fact that Godflesh were the rare occasion where an industrial metal band didn’t suck), he is remarkably prolific, so much so that the other day I was wondering, “Jesus, when the hell are Jesu going to put something else out?” when it had been only 3 or 4 months. But if you dig what the man does, you can easily get lost in this prolificness. With the slew of releases and albums that aren’t technically Jesu albums but are just cut with a different singer (this year’s J2, with former Swans vocalist Jarboe), there’s no shortage of Jesu. And,  interestingly enough,  each release is exceptional in its own right. While it’s impossible to release perfect album after perfect album (lest I remind you of Magical Mystery Tour, people? Nobody’s perfect.), Jesu’s 4 EPs, 2 full lengths and 1 split since 2005 all seem to have their own personality. While nothing he’s done thus far has been so drastic as to step out from under the Jesu umbrella, the Jesu of Heart Ache and the Jesu of Lifeline, the band’s first and latest release respectively, are two very different very sad bands.

Since his days in Godflesh, Broadrick has been touting his love of post-punk and new and no wave, despite being in one of the most influential thinking man’s metal bands of all time (that being said, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner is essentially Swans’ Cop, except chock full of beefy man-riffs instead of an impenetrable wall of abstraction). Jesu seems to be his way of breaking away from his metallic roots and slowly shifting into the Young Indiana Jones to shoegaze icons My Bloody Valentine’s Indiana Jones. Or at least it would seem this way if you stumbled onto Jesu during the Silver and/or Conqueror album cycles (much like yours truly). But truth be told, Jesu’s evolution has been very deliberate and interesting, churning out a release slightly different from the last, with Lifeline looking back toward its starting point: a very sad, angry chimp still breaking armadillo shells open with a bone. But before I get too far into my own metaphor (which I’m certain I already have), it’s worth noting that all of Jesu’s releases have been enjoyable in their own right, or as enjoyable as vast melancholy can be.

That being said, Jesu’s strength lie in their EPs. While J.K. Broadrick has proven that he can keep a listener’s attention for the span of a full length record with Conqueror, he also showed that he knows how to drag the hell out of his feet with his band’s eponymous full length debut. The shortest song on that album is still just under seven minutes long, and the rest balloon out to an average of nine and a half minutes each. And while most of those songs play pretty well on their own, next to eachother, they start to sound (ridiculously) same-y, to the point where the record goes from ruin-your-day sad to damn-I-gotta-get-back-to-my-day-already sad.

None of Jesu’s EPs have had this problem thus far, as Broadrick apparently works best when he’s working in the confines of just a few songs. On Silver and Lifeline, he churns out four stately dark pop songs at a leisurely pace, while Heart Ache and Sunrise/Sundown are both as long as most bands full lengths, but manage to stretch each of the two songs on their respective collections out to the breaking point of the listener’s attention without actually breaking it. This makes the songs quietly epic, like a camera panning across a foggy British countryside, Irish farm on an overcast day, or another pretentious metaphor.

And though the sheer length of the songs on the Heart Ache EP and the overall pace and stateliness of the releases that followed hint at pretension, Jesu don’t insist on your knowledge of literature or history like the Decemberists or Arcade Fire, and though they don’t rely heavily on contemporary song structures, they aren’t the non-conformist circle jerk of Battles. And even though they plod along with downtuned distorted guitars, they aren’t the every-once-and-a-while-when-you’re-in-the-mood-for-it drone metal of Sunn 0))) (despite the fact that Broadrick was once a touring member) or Earth. Like the slow version of Disintegration that it is, Jesu is much more about lushness than sadness, evoking mood instead of emotion, esoteric but not for snobby reasons. Justin Broadrick just likes things at a melancholy pace, even if he isn’t particularly sad. And, most likely, adores weed. And though it is an acquired taste, dammit people, acquire it. At the rate the man’s going, it’ll soon be hard to know where to jump in.


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: