By Christian Chiakulas
The album cover for Young Jesus's Home looks like they just grabbed a bunch of their friends, posed underneath a tree and had somebody take a picture. Not that it's poorly done or looks bad, but the near unprofessionalism belies the music within.
From “Family and Friends,” a two-and-a-half introduction of sorts, you know this is an album with ambition. The second song, “David,” is most representative of the band's fun sort of pop-rock sound driven by lead singer John Rossiter's deep, passionate vocals that go from mellow, earnest singing to shouting in key at the drop of a hat. Underneath are layers of metallic-sounding clean guitars and the almost melodic beats from drummer Peter Martin, who joins with Rossiter's vocals to give the band their developed sense of dynamics.
“Falling For You” starts off quietly, with Rossiter singing over the single strums of a gorgeous clean guitar, until the bass comes in, then the rest of the band, and track three takes off. Bassist Shawn Nystrand shows off some of his skills, and Rossiter continues to impress with his singing abilities, especially in the backing vocals and melodies.
“New Cool” is a slight departure from the previous songs, trading in the chords for arpeggios, and containing a catchy staccato drum beat and doubled vocals.
“News” brings on the acoustic guitar, and a little blues. Once again, Rossiter's Gahan-esque vocals take center stage. About halfway through, the acoustic is traded in for the band's trademark clean electric guitar for a happy, funky breakdown and guitar solo. Rossiter screams through to the end, giving this song a noticeable climax, to a round of applause from the imagined audience.
The band does a quiet, melancholy and atmospheric reprise of the first song, “Family and Friends,” with more acoustic guitar and chanting background vocals. Aside from the backing vox it's instrumental, and serves to bridge the gap between the first and second halves of the album.
Young Jesus pick it up again with “Away,” and for the first time, we get a bit of distortion on the guitar as it fights to overpower the vocals. The guitar may be louder, but as with every other song on Home, John Rossiter's vocals are the centerpiece, practically the whole reason for the song's existence. "Away" has some cool interludes, and an extended drumroll with some atmospheric guitar effects, but you kind of forget about them whenever the singing starts back up. This is another screamer, with the band going nuts behind their lead singer as he switches between yelling and singing.
The band continue this mean streak with “The Greater Boulders.” Rossiter shouts some kind of beat poetry over a driving bass-and-drum beat, then sings, then screams, never quite able to make up his mind. It mixes to create probably the most dynamic song yet on the album, although “Boulders” remains deficient in hooks and never really delivers on the promises made by the ever-shifting dynamics.
“Earthquake,” despite its name, is a sparse acoustic song with more sonic textures and eerie background vocals, so much so that it could almost pass for Leonard Cohen. It comes at a perfect time in the album, third to the last, and right before the behemoth that is “Not Quite Dead.”
With “Not Quite Dead,” the band could have indulged themselves to create a faux-prog bottle of pretension to curry favor with art-rock types, and although they may straddle the line, they never cross it. The intro is Rossiter singing over a clean, electric arpeggiated riff, before launching into a massive chorus/breakdown with distorted vocals, that while lacking melody, still beat the rest of the instruments for your attention. There's a false stop about halfway through, with a lot of feedback and industrial noises, then the band fades in with more laid-back singing, chanting backing vocals, and some piano for good measure, and plays the song off with an outro.
The piano stays for “Home,” the final track on the album. “Home” is exactly the type of track the band would be expected to close their album with, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. The piano is pretty, and when the beat finally comes in the song becomes catchy. The singing brings the song up a level, and the band goes out on a good note.
Home is far from a perfect album, and it's not built to be a chart-smasher, but Young Jesus know how to write good songs and how to put them together into a cohesive whole. Rossiter's vocals are absolutely the best thing about this band, but the songs themselves are worth listening to, especially “David,” “Falling For You” and “News.
'Home' is out Wednesday, January 4th via the band's record release show at Lincoln Hall (also with Canasta, Brontosaurus and Hemmingbirds), and January 24th digitally. Click here for tickets and more info on the show.