Young Jesus: Welcome to Conceptual Beach (Saddle Creek) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

Young Jesus

Welcome to Conceptual Beach

Saddle Creek

Aug 13, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Several albums in, and not sure it really matters how many given Young Jesus’ propensity to switch things up, the improvisationally minded band reinvent themselves once again on Welcome to Conceptual Beach. The imaginary shore of the album’s title is a spot where band leader John Rossiter (guitar/vocals) retreats to as his creative space. As the press materials tell it, this time out Rossiter brings other band members Kern Haug (drums), Marcel Borbón (bass), and Eric Shervin (keyboards) along for the outing. As improbable as that sounds, not only do they come back with their finest and most cohesive recording to date they meet some friends along the way. They also apparently left the rawer voiced version of Rossiter, from 2018’s The Whole Thing Is Just There, napping on the dunes.

Rossiter’s vocal approach has migrated (again) to a high register hybrid of Thom Yorke and ANOHNI. Whether that appeals to you or not is certainly a matter of personal preference, but it sounds like we are hearing the true Rossiter and it fits the music well. Musically, Young Jesus are at their best here on the longer form tracks where they let themselves get carried away—lost either in a Dirty Three sounding dirge or more likely given over to an early ’80s Van Morrison sense of joyful abandon, particularly given the addition of horns courtesy of Brian Tuley. The shorter “Pattern Doubt” displays this amalgamation of sources well and also stitches out the band’s mantra: “how a pattern doubts, when it’s patterned out.” Not subjecting themselves to limitations, directions, or other standard boundaries, songs morph, mimic, and spring off on new paths without regard for how much time they may have to do so.

The album’s opener, “Faith,” gives a good approximation for what is to come. Starting with echoey drums and Rossiter’s auto-tuned vocals, the song quickly goes off in a myriad of directions. An urgent news flash beat appears early on, only to appear in the song’s closing seconds as if the impulse didn’t know it was on a short string. What follows are two of the shorter songs, that couldn’t be more different in approach while still fitting within the confines of the album. “Pattern Doubt”—with its celebratory sax and twinkling keyboard runs—taps the most into Morrison’s Celtic ray, even if the moment is a brief one. While the following “(un)knowing” shows the band flexing into a bigger guitar sound that advances then decays while Rossiter lets himself be overtaken by his most impassioned vocal delivery.

But the album shines its brightest on the closing two tracks, “Lark” and “Magicians,” which make up nearly half of the album in their over 20-minute course. “Lark” starts with found sounds and harmonic pings and blossoms into a resplendent melody driven by Haug and Shervin. At times playful and others scorchingly testimonial, the song wends its way around bent notes, mirrored melodies, and rapid fire drums that pull from the album’s opening track. The following “Magicians” ups the dynamism of “Lark,” going from choral fills to a near silent amp buzz, then through ponderous moments to full on fusion. Whether Young Jesus are in fact “occasioned by magicians” as the lyrics declare or have just found their moment in time, these final two songs are a wonder unto themselves.     

Welcome to Conceptual Beach is a fully realized album that presses against being a fixed piece of art. Snippets of melody, popping drumbeats, and stray ideas appear, retreat, and reemerge, sometimes in different songs. As freeform and loose as the album sounds in places, these tags provide cohesion and all is pulled together through the comprehensive close of “Lark” and “Magicians.” Simply titled songs that unfold as naturally as a time lapse film of a fence full of jasmine buds unclenching in the dawn, scenting the air, falling away to new growth, and pulling in for the night, only to repeat the cycle. Welcome to Conceptual Beach may be the type of album that is overlooked if one doesn’t take the time to get wrapped up in it. It’s well worth allowing yourself to be overtaken by the product of its incantations. (   

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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