By Nicky Ogilvie-Thompson ’19
I first heard of Young Jesus when I saw their album Home posted in a Bandcamp thread on /mu/ back in 2012. Some people had responded to whomever had posted it, thanking them and saying it was awesome, so I thought that I too should give it a listen. I was enthralled right from the get go, track one, “Family and Friends,” as vocalist John Rossiter let his voice escalate into manicism repeating, almost chanting, over and over: “Your family and friends will never die/Everybody’s gonna be alright tonight.” It’s been three years since then, and in that time period, Rossiter dissolved the band, moved to Los Angeles, dealt with some of his own personal demons, reformed the band with an added keyboardist, and recorded this album, Grow/Decompose, which is my personal Album of the Year so far (though it’d be hard to knock it off).
Like Home, some might want to label Grow/Decompose as a concept album. It’s not. But it’s not a traditional, non-narrative album either. Instead, it’s really somewhere in the middle, with a cast of characters, but no real stories from any of them, just episodes. Sometimes these characters are named, like Neil in “G,” or the titular character in “Milo,” or sometimes they are sung in the first person by the vocals of Rossiter himself, like in “Holy Ghost” or “Blood and Guts.” Either way, every song on this album is extremely powerful, because John Rossiter is a goddamn genius. His vocals, which can range from deep, slow crooning to rabid, breathless yelling, are the perfect delivery system for his deeply emotional lyrics, often emphasized by brutal imagery. Let me give you an example of his songwriting prowess. Here are the lyrics to Holy Ghost, the album’s seventh track:
I know the love of Jesus Christ I feel it in my throat
But all the cut up butterflies grow demon heads and toes
And from their toes grow little vines that reek of pheromones
And as I choke on Jesus Christ they sneak up through my nose
And in my bloody body build a church of marrow bones
And in the church one’s wearing women’s clothing all alone
He gets so old he falls apart while beating off to mold
And in the blood he’s seeing Jesus Christ inside my throat
We all dissolve to thicker dirt than we have ever known
And in the dirt there grows a vine god labeled Holy Ghost
Now let’s just use “Holy Ghost” as a microcosm of what makes this album so spectacular. It’s preceded by “Father Son,” which is two and a half minutes consisting solely of a synthesized organ. In the last ten seconds it degenerates into crackling and the drums come in, fast and heavy. Guitars start up too, and Rossiter sings the first verse. Pause. And his voice cracks as he starts yelling the last two verses. When did this song become a post-punk track? Who knows, man. But almost as soon as it starts, it’s over, and we’re on to “Blood and Guts.”
That’s the point of this album’s sound, and why I prefer it to so many others albums made this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Carrie & Lowell, I love Before the World Was Big, I love To Pimp a Butterfly, etc. etc… There have been a lot of really, really good albums this year. But what Grow/Decompose does is go crazy. Songs start in one place but then run wild and crash somewhere far from home.
This album is kids on bikes riding around a small town smashing mailboxes with baseball bats, and after they all split up to call it a night and you say goodbye to your friends, you go to the lake and try to hold yourself under until you drown but you realize your body won’t let you, so you give up and crawl under a tree, not wanting to go home with wet clothes because you know your mom will ask questions you don’t want to answer. So you stare at the stars and try to forget who you are because you think that if you can realize that sensation of personlessness you’ll be happy. But it’s an unattainable goal, so as you fall asleep you do your best to convince yourself that everything’s going to work out, and as you wake with the sunrise you feel a little better but you’re still unsure whether or not you believe yourself. As Rossiter sings in “G:” “It’s not the hurting part that heals/But I know that we’ll all be okay.”
The album is available either as a no-minimum pay-what-you-want download or a five dollar minimum pay-what-you-want cassette plus download plus other goodies, both from the band’s Bandcamp page or from Hellhole Supermarket.