Jesu – Conqueror

3 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Producer: JK Broadrick

Jesu’s first release on Hydra Head was where I started to have my initial falling out with the label.  I expected Aaron Turner and HH to provide me with experimental metal, and I had discovered a lot of goodness through that expectation.  Around this time – mid 2000s, I suppose – their roster – which, admittedly, always branched out to encompass “non-traditional” groups, though they still seemed to flow along the hardcore vein – their roster of releases led me to some things which I just didn’t want to hear from my blessed hardcore heroes.  This is why expectations suuuuck.  I mean, had some of this stuff been put out on other labels – I’m thinking of ’27’ when I say this – I probably would’ve had no issue with it.  But suddenly we had sorta normal alt-rock happening, and the dude at Tower who listened exclusively to be-bop jazz records is playing the Jesu album and telling me it’s awesome.

It made my little super-cool indie heart beat with intense whatever-it-is that makes indie kids scrounge up bullshit to champion as the new non-bullshit.

I’m still super cool and suffer from frequent bouts of whatever, but I’ve gotten a lot better at listening / watching / reading things with a bit of distance from assumed opinion (I’ve achieved this by never going outside and thus not getting too exposed to popular opinion), and so… thanks to the unfortunate necessity of Hydra Head putting up CD bundles for sale, I’ve had the opportunity (after purchase of said bundles) to revisit a lot of that stuff I shriveled my nose at before.

Whenever I have a ‘violent’ reaction to a piece of media, I suspect it’s never for whatever stupid reason I offer at the time and is, in fact, because it irks me that it’s popular or something equally stupid but unspoken.  And then I’ll begin to suspect that I actually super like it, and that’s why I’m so conflicted, because it goes against that ‘must maintain unpopular opinions’ cool thing I got goin’ on.  But you know what?  Most of the time I end up actually not liking whatever it is, and I react as such at the moment to justify to myself that I’m NOT just disliking it ’cause it’s cool.  Get it?  That’s how sweet my brain is.

(Has anyone seen a review around here…?)

Jesu…  Jesu.  Jesu ends up being somewhere in the middle.  It is on the verge of being awesome.  8 minute songs drenched in echo, shoe-gaze blasts of distortion, slowly warping over repeated lyrics that are spoken / hummed in an almost pretty monotone, the drums doing a slowcore thing while an awesomely mixed distorted bass drives home the low-end.  At least – that’s how the best songs work, like the opener ‘Conqueror,’ or ‘Brighteyes,’ late in the album.  And mixed in are some tracks that blend a bit faster pace in with things, but the mood and style remains the same.  Justin Broadrick’s lyrics are pretty general, so they most effectively match the vibe when he milks that generalness into potential greater pastures through the repetition of key phrases.  Soaked with all these layers of heavy and yet smoothed-out noise – there is a cold feeling to the production that keeps the walls of distortion at a distance – when it bleeds into your earholes for x minutes, it really does transport you into a different mindset… nothing concrete, just contemplative, thoughts in the ether.  The vocals are mixed higher up than on previous Jesu releases, but on these key tracks, Broadrick’s pacing of his words almost removes them of meaning, allowing it to just be another instrument on the track.  And it’s possible that a whole album of this would be amazing.  But there’s something just… missing about it, something that prevents it from giving me those sweet lowdown feelings that Sparklehorse or Codeine can give me, two artists that Jesu definitely brings to mind here and there.  And that something is exposed when Jesu turns in some actual “songs,” where the lyrics seem more important and are thus actually sung, when the drums kick up a notch – because, frankly, there’s nothing really defining about these tracks.  Subtract the drone, and the generic lyrics start to seem weightless, the song structure nothing too out of the ordinary.  And that robotic production style – fitting for the more mechanical tracks – doesn’t allow these real songs to develop any ‘flesh’… ergh… horrible metaphor, but maybe you get me.  So it makes you question how much merit to give the rest of the album.  Or it makes me question.

But I can spin this disc countless times.  It’s soothing to the ears, pounding and light at the same time.  It fulfills the need to hear something heavy without having to turn the volume down, and though it has that uneven feeling, it also seems like the kind of album that just grows on you, despite its lackings.

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