Album Review: Young Jesus – ‘The Whole Thing Is Just There’

Posted: by The Editor

While The Whole Thing Is Just There is named after a Philip Guston quote, I keep coming back to a quote by Octavio Paz when I think about Young Jesus’ fourth full-length LP: “At this very moment / someone spells me out.” See, The Whole Thing Is Just There has a loose, improvisational feeling for most of its 50-minute runtime. It feels like it’s being created as you listen to it, and your listening experience is a crucial aspect of the creation of the album. That old adage about whether or not a tree makes a sound if no one hears it fall? It’s like that, except that The Whole Thing simply does not exist if no one is around to listen to it.

The big head-turner of the record is its closer, “Gulf,” and for good reason–this one song takes up nearly half of the album’s runtime. Typically the grandiose album closer is the outlier, but “Gulf,” a sort of “Goodbye Sky Harbor” for an era of impending climate doom, is the song that best exemplifies what sort of band Young Jesus is. When the band entered the studio, they had a six-minute song; when they left, they had a jazzy, twisting, layered, genre-bending behemoth of a finale.

About halfway through, the song should end as it devolves into a smattering of snare hits, but out of that chaos Young Jesus rebuild the song as a drone-y, stretched-thin dirge. It finally explodes again into a chorus that would make Slint proud before taking its time to simmer back down. It’s an entire album’s worth of experimentation in one song, and it feels no more rehearsed than an extended jammy outro at the end of the crowd favorite song at a live show.

To say this band sounds unrehearsed is, of course, a compliment. It is to say that everything in the album feels entirely organic, a product of nature and necessity. Songs flit between soft piano and discordant buzzsaw guitars effortlessly, as fickle as human emotion.

John Rossiter’s lyrics are a contrast to the instability around him, though. In the midst of the wintry The Whole Thing, with its unpredictable time and dynamic changes, Rossiter sings of spring. Even as “systems lean / towards being with an ending world,” Rossiter believes in a “beauty unfurled.” Even as he watches his loved ones die, he knows he “will dream you in other forms.” His lyrics are hopeful, but they’re devoid of empty platitudes or meaningless inspiration.

He accepts that after “seconds of activity” we become “overwhelmed.” But, as he screams at the end of the monstrous opener “Deterritory,” “it’s not enough to hate the world we live within” unless that hate is fuel for change. Life is hard, people are callous, and the world is indifferent, but that recognition is meaningless unless it’s call to action, too. The Whole Thing Is Just There is a challenging listen, full stop, but the most daunting challenge Young Jesus present isn’t in their music itself. It’s believing there’s still the chance to “build a community.” But to hear Rossiter sing it, it becomes more than believable; it becomes inevitable.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

The Whole Thing Is Just There is out now via Saddle Creek. You can order it on Digital/CD/LP here.

Zac Djamoos | @greatwhitebison

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