“I am ashamed to believe in myself”
— Young Jesus, ‘Hinges’
So yells John Rossiter of Young Jesus near the end of their last release, Void as Lob, a two-song EP that continued the deep and distinctive examination that their music has come to represent. From the personal and pretty transparent rock of debut Home, to the complex and subtle Grow / Decompose, Young Jesus use their music to ask big questions, to chase the meaning of things within the world we inhabit. Be it chronicling surroundings as an attempt to make sense of them, or turning to fiction to fully realise suffering and strangeness, Rossiter seems to write as a process of learning, an effort to understand himself and whatever is around him. As such the line from ‘Hinges’ sounded like an epiphany, many vague strands coalescing into a permanent truth.
The band’s new self-titled album feels like it arose from this position, the slow dawning aftermath where the revelation was revealed to throw up more questions than answers. Conquering the fear of believing in yourself is all well and good, but the kicker is that the process of figuring what exactly constitutes your ‘self’ is a labyrinth from which few return, at least honestly. Both more experimental and personal than previous releases, the record sets out to explore this by returning direct focus onto Rossiter, though in an unfocused way, collecting the strands from Void as Lob and Rossiter’s solo work to forge a loose, improvisational sound coupled with their usual concentrated lyrical style.
Opener ‘Green’ throws us into a moody swirl, Rossiter’s recognisable vocals coloured by an unconvincing positivity, as though attempting to persuade himself to suspend his better judgement and give in, to stop swimming as he’s swept toward the edge of a waterfall. The strong theme of identity is picked up right away, centring on the idea of performance to facilitate love, the paradoxical effort of pretending to be someone else in order to get/maintain the affections of another. As though, with enough effort, we might get a chance to choose what to believe in.
“I need some room to pull some stunts
to flatten everything: we’ll be so covered, so embraced
I am a coffee cup, I am a tire, I am a wave
I am this thought and I am not myself and that’s okay”
With the relationship seemingly failing, ‘River’ plays as a realisation of sorts, the understanding that this performance isn’t a detrimental thing because it’s ignoble or impure to ignore your true self, but rather that it’s unsustainable and untrue. Because, should the love disappear and pull the rug from beneath your feet, who are you then? This is picked up by ‘Eddy’, a track about insubstantial, intangible things, about looking for some definite solid ground and finding only shifting water. The first real example of a newly improvisational dimension to the Young Jesus sound, the track flickers and flashes like a new flame, establishing itself in one direction as it’s extinguished in another, before eventually settling into its groove, Rossiter’s vocals spoken yet charged with a certain motion.
“I wish that I had called
and I wish, I wish I knew
that I am not the centre
got to much to figure out
so we just commit to moving
commit to living with your doubts”
Both the delicately intimate ‘Under’ and slow expansive burn of ‘Desert’ are also concerned with movement, hinting at a second facet to the identity issue, a problem that arises once you decide to stop pretending. It turns out that living as your true self isn’t as easy as dropping the act, that the very idea of a True Self is not, contrary to popular belief, some fundamental thing stamped within your chest. Rather, it’s near impossible to pin down (if it even exists as all), glowing and dimming, constantly changing. This idea reveals the imagery of motion that permeates Young Jesus to have deeper connotations than the drifting of a relationship. Indeed, the improvisational sound becomes newly relevant too, the instrumentation not following some clearly mapped sequence but rather pushing out blind, flowing down odd alleyways and snaking down dead ends, some portion always moving forward.
To complicate things further comes the idea that our True Self is increasingly obscured the more we search for it, overthought investigation leading at best to exaggeration and at worst downright fantasy. Clocking in at almost ten minutes, ‘Feeling’ is something of a culmination of these themes, sonically and lyrically. The song opens with half-paced drums and guitar which slink forward, Rossiter’s voice lending an air of foreboding to the atmosphere, a sort of pre-tornadic quality, drawn out as long as possible to build suspense or allow a degree of mercy, like a deep breath before the crash. The rhythm eventually breaks down into staccato drums and ambient swells, snatches of sound recordings barely audible in the background, before great heaving guitars join the fray, reverberating with a physical weight. Rossiter repeats the same two verses as before, this time his voice tearing with fervid feeling, as though expressing his emotions with enough force and desperation might confirm their authenticity. The opening lines acknowledge this, the doubt that underpins the whole endeavour, the water beneath his feet.
“Spend a lot of time thinking about the feelings I felt
can’t recall whether I felt that in the first place”
If interrogations of the past and present only serve to disfigure your sense of identity, then perhaps the answer is to surrender. To suspend the constant analysis, to instead just live and see who that makes you. Though open to interpretation, closer ‘Storm’ could be read in this way, committing to neither true identities or acted ones, instead settling on a constant questioning of both pretences and ideas of True Self, pushing forward without any set ideas or directions. Perhaps you’ll discover a specific family member or loved one, a quote unquote Special Person, someone capable of anchoring you to yourself, of revealing your True Self without any examination or excavation, without additions of alterations. Or perhaps it’s simpler still, that you are nothing more than your simplest actions. Eating. Breathing. Doing the dishes. Perhaps you are the banal things, day by day.
“So here I am now
in this dirt shirt.
I’m cooking dinner
in this dirty shirt.
Thinking is this existence
in this dirty shirt?
Is this existing?
I’m gonna make it work”
As ever, the questions Rossiter and co. raise are too big to expect any sort of clear answer, but Young Jesus offer a model of coping, a way to remain hopeful and human within their jaws. Both the lyrics and instrumentation preach a kind of relinquishment, a cessation of over-analysis and self-reflexive thinking in favour of something more natural, even if the space feels empty or alien. Push forward instinctively, they seem to be saying. Push forward with doubt.
Young Jesus is out now and you can get it via Gigantic Noise.