Once a band has established its sound, two options arise: Stick to your guns and keep giving fans what they know they want or start exploring new artistic territory. Oftentimes, the choice to pursue a new aesthetic can lead to a string of unfocused or messy albums, even if the band's catalogue eventually improves.
Miraculously, Los Angeles-based art rock outfit Young Jesus
avoided any awkwardness while transforming its sound, introducing exciting opportunities without losing sight of what made its music great.
Released on Aug. 14, 2020, Welcome to Conceptual Beach
delivers Young Jesus' most accessible and structured songs alongside the improvisational voyages that made the band's past records so gripping.
After exposing a wider audience to its unique blend of improvisation, indie music and math rock on 2017's S/T
(Saddle Creek), Young Jesus perfected its sound on 2018's The Whole Thing Is Just There
(Saddle Creek), which brought sprawling soundscapes and wave after wave gorgeous vocal performances from frontman John Rossiter
. About half of the album's runtime is dedicated to closing track "Gulf," which features almost 20 minutes of improvisation with heavy, anthemic choruses to tie it together.
On Welcome to Conceptual Beach
, Young Jesus strays from the avant-garde slightly to craft some of its sweetest and catchiest songs yet.
"Pattern Doubt" is a fantastic example of this new focus, opening with a heavenly blend of sparkling piano runs, soft electric guitars, light drums and warm bass. Rossiter's poetic lyrics and catchy melodies guide the track through its simple evolution as the guitars and drums pick up momentum, leading into an expressive saxophone solo over Rossiter's growing background vocals.
"(un)knowing" uses a similar structure, providing a gorgeous alt rock foundation for Rossiter's impressionistic lyricism with shimmering acoustic guitars, punchy drums and fuzzy bass and electric guitars. Young Jesus leave these catchy verses and hooks behind in the track's second half when a rush of guitar distortion ushers in a gorgeous outro, with Rossiter's choral background vocals floating under the album's most beautiful lyrics, breaking up cries testing the limits of his vocal range with hopeless pleas to the Divine and saying, "I'll be redeemed in shame and grief."
Along with "Root And Crown," which sounds like its dramatic vocal harmonies and synth folk instrumentation could have been ripped right out of a Bon Iver album, these tracks establish Young Jesus' new approachable sound. But for fans of the band's older and more heavily improvised work, Welcome to Conceptual Beach
still has plenty to offer.
Penultimate track "Lark" immediately explores several drastically different styles, opening with soft jazzy guitar and whispered vocals, introducing a folk rock-like sound with catchy licks and spacy drums and breaking down into loose blues.
Eventually, the song settles into a soft blend of sun-scorched guitars, subtle harmonics on the bass and distant drums, all interweaving without any structure while hyperactive drumming fills and swells of bright synthesizers guide the song toward a gorgeous climax. After the chaos fades, "Lark" effortlessly builds back into its opening motif, re-contextualizing the opening theme with a more airy and peaceful mix that gives the song an incredible sense of closure.
Closing track "Magicians" offers an even more cinematic evolution, beginning with bright arpeggios, punchy drums, spacey piano and soft background vocals. The song jumps between meditative sections featuring improvisational noodling on the guitar and bass, gradual swells of warbling synths and clean piano runs, and cheerful folk rock with some of Rossiter's most personal and hopeful lyrics, detailing his journey in finding "magical belief in love."
After a long break for sparse improvisation, the song builds with layers of foreboding guitars and marching band rhythms into a grand instrumental outro, pairing icy synths with heavy drums. The band drops away as Rossiter whispers his most intimate vocals on the album before a crushing post rock finale, with sour guitar leads, whining synths and heavy drums all melting together.
Although Welcome to Conceptual Beach
does not feature anything as abstract as the adventurous highlights of the band's previous album, Young Jesus proves with this record that it can create cutting-edge music without alienating anyone. If you're looking for rock music that balances ear candy with experimentation, don't miss out on one of the year's best rock albums.
Faith; Pattern Doubt; (un)knowing; Meditations; Root And Crown; Lark; Magicians.
Brian Tuley: saxophone and flute; Peter Martin: alternate percussion.