by David Denison.
For John Rossiter, lead singer of self-described “party-angst” band, Young Jesus, music is simultaneously “both utterly depressing and totally exuberant.” And while the presence of those two emotions is common in music, their coexistence is not. Perhaps it is that unique paradox that has earned this young indie band the loyal dedication of the Chicago underground.
The members of Young Jesus come from humble beginnings. For instance, three of their four members have never seen their fathers without mustaches. With that genetic predisposition to Chicago-bred hipster irony, it comes as some surprise that the members of this band seem to evade the typical indie rock stereotypes. But what they lack in ironic sweaters and black-rimmed glasses, they make up for with plenty of garage-esque studio sounds. Keeping the long list of imperfections that accompany their record, despite its near-perfect writing and arrangement, seems like someone is throwing a bone to the cool kids. But when asked about the somewhat low-fi production of their debut full length, “Home,” Rossiter insisted, “We weren’t trying to make a low-fi record. We’re not trying to pander to any specific crowd. We just want to play rock and roll.”
While it does reflect their youthful idealism, simply calling their music “rock and roll” is unnecessarily broad. Their eleven-tracks may vary some in style, but they never stray far from a sound that is essentially a grungier, more interesting version of The National. Rossiter’s vocal style is a unique back-and-forth between a low grumble and fiery shouting. “Home,” at it’s most grandiose, seems to miss their goal of replicating the huge, everyone-and-their-mother-singing-along anthems of Arcade Fire. But in missing that goal, they landed in a place far more approachable. It doesn’t feel like you’re listening to them in an arena. It feels like you’re sitting next to them in their living room.
In fact, “Home” was recorded in their friend’s apartment. One track in particular, “News,” sounds like a bunch of drunk people being periodically allowed to shout into microphones. As it turns out, admits Rossiter, that is exactly what happened. “Sometimes I think rock music should be restored to that raucous, screaming, party-going vibe,” he explained.
One doesn’t get the sense that this band cares if they are ever big. They give their music away for free, or donation, on Bandcamp. They seem more into having a good time than selling records, and I think that is part of their appeal. They view their fan base as a community.
For those who are wondering, their band name is no religious statement. They noted that the one MySpace fan who commended them for doing what they do “in the name of Christ” had clearly never heard their music, which contains at least enough references to drugs and alcohol to get intoxicated vicariously. Despite what some might consider questionable moral concepts, Young Jesus’ music isn’t negative. From the first (and most notable) song on their record, they continuously repeat, “Your family and friends will never die. Everybody’s gonna be alright tonight.” And while they are clearly quite wrong, you certainly can’t say they aren’t optimistic.
This band is not notably polished or professional. This isn’t the album that the mainstream music machine has been waiting for. But somewhere between their genuine passion and their compelling lyrics, Young Jesus has successfully captured all of the things that made us fall in love with music in the first place.
Feb 24 Dragonfly Lounge, Madison, WI
Feb 25 Subterranean, Chicago, IL