2016: Or, the Year of the Release of American Football (LP2)

What exactly made the first American Football album a classic? And how did it eventually gain a reputation as the definitive statement from the 90’s generation of emotional rock? Some may argue good timing, and though that’s probably got something to do with it, it doesn’t seem to account for why its mass appeal came years later.

It’s no secret that emo’s been given a bad rep. The awful make-up and suicidal crybaby stereotypes are one thing, but the music has greatly shifted away from its roots as well, where today, emo has now come to define any whiny pop-punk band under the sun (or depressing, ominous raincloud). It’s gotten so bad that worthwhile emo acts these days seem to be operating under a more wide sweeping indie-rock guise, so as to avoid any affiliation with the genre (see Pinegrove, The Hotelier, and Julien Baker).

American Football’s popularity against this current climate isn’t surprising. It’s the perfect backlash record, a place where emo kids who want nothing to do with the current scene can hide away. After all, aren’t we all seeking that sacred feeling of discovering music that sounds like it was recorded just for us? American Football is surely that record for a lot of people, whom all likely experienced a collective chagrin in witnessing the demand for its repress last year. Guess what? Turns out you’re not the only one who loves that record.

The band’s debut – airy, mellow, almost amateurish at times, and full of sprawling instrumentals – was, in itself, a kind of transitional record. If the earliest of emo acts were responsible for taking much of the aggression out of hardcore, then American Football were responsible for taking it out entirely. Without their auspicious debut, it’s hard to imagine the existence of Death Cab’s Transatlanticism, or Bright Eyes’s I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, even if the albums have little to do with one another.

americanfootball-lp2 LP2 (Polyvinyl, 2016)

17 years later and we’re graced with the band’s follow-up. Doesn’t matter what band you are, stack that many years between albums and the sound is bound to change. Thankfully, the American Football of 2016 sound a lot like the American Football of 1999. The biggest, and most immediately obvious difference is Kinsella’s vocals, which, throughout the album, are far more present and much louder in the mix, as if he took a full step closer to the mic this time around.

There’s also an emphasis on the lyrical content with this new material that was somewhat lacking in the debut – though not to the album’s fault. Every sentimental anecdote and nostalgia-soaked turn of phrase is sung with the utmost clarity. I’m hard pressed to think of an album with not one obscured word (maybe something from Bill Callahan or Real Estate). In any case, it’s a rarity, and for an album that sounds as if the lyrics are taken straight from journal entries, that type of transparency becomes a vulnerable position to take. It’s the type of vulnerability that Kinsella must be used to by now, what, with his work in Owls, Joan of Arc, and his solo output under the Owen moniker – whose number of full lengths are rapidly approaching the double digit mark.

Nearing 40, Kinsella likely can’t spare a single fuck to what people think of his emo boy inclinations, especially this late in his career. And although the band have taken a rather nonchalant stance on their follow-up, it’s clear that some serious work went into it. But with serious work often comes serious trimming, which, in a few cases does detract from the album. Take, for example, “Born to Lose,” whose fadeout at the 5 minute mark ruins its chance to be the answer to “Honestly?” The same can be said of “Give me the Gun,” where the lead guitar at the 1:30 mark would be nothing short of brilliant if it were just given a bit more room to breathe. Its inclusion feels perfectly natural, but its brevity stifles the progression.

Ultimately, nitpicking the differences between two albums released 17 years apart is moot. Throughout such a long hiatus it’s clear that was has survived the years is the band’s spirit. If anything, LP2 guides us deeper into that spirit, shedding more layers on love, loss, addiction and the banality of life – to name just a few of the running themes. One needn’t look further than the album covers; in 1999 we got to see the house. In 2016 we were let inside.

Julianna Barwick Presents Will

Barwick1

 

S-P-A-C-E.

It’s the first word that comes to mind after hitting play on Julianna Barwick’s Will, and is what immediately distinguishes the album from past efforts. For an artist who relies mostly on the wordless voice as a springboard for ambient composition, space becomes an ever important element in getting her vision across. “St. Apolonia,” the album’s opener, reveals the setting as a cavernous urban environment, perhaps a tunnel or underpass of sorts, where the ever-so-slight rustlings of human activity is faintly heard beneath Barwick’s signature mantra.

If The Magic Place (2011) and Florine (2009) showcased Barwick’s succinct bedroom lonerism, and Nepenthe (2013) was the slick and seamless band effort (Barwick collaborated with member’s of Múm and Sigór Ros producer Alex Somers), then Will falls somewhere in between. It’s her nomadic record, pieced together with sessions from both urban and rural places in the US along with a city Barwick holds dear to heart: Lisbon, Portugal.

The variety of recording locations makes for a more sporadic record, but Barwick manages to use this looser feel to her advantage. Where Nepenthe‘s songs tended to start from silence and would progress in tightly layered formations of voice and strings, Will‘s pieces often begin and end midstream, with strings, piano and synthesizer playing more predominate roles. The instruments help distinguish the tracks here, whereas in past efforts the cut between songs could feel almost arbitrary, as they tended to meld together.

From Will all the way back to her early releases (some over a decade old now) Barwick has managed to keep her music interesting yet wholly simple, and as of yet hasn’t lost sight of the sound she has built a career around. Her ethos, it seems, is built on a foundation not dissimilar to those ambient pioneers who also saw the voice as central to their expression: Brian Eno, Pandit Pran Nath, Lisa Gerrard and Phillip Glass to name a few.

Although her music harkens to bygone decades Barwick sounds anything but dated. The fact that she has so few like-sounding contemporaries places her not at the mercy of the past, but as a forerunner for the future. The evolution of Barwick’s music sees Will almost as a protest to popular demand, an anti-pop statement whose ambassador turned deeper within herself for the inspiration she sought rather than out into a world of over-saturated noise. In the face of that noise, Will is a breath of clarity.

Will

Will (Dead Oceans, 2016)

The Rise of Deafheaven

Admittedly, it took far too long for me to give Deafheaven a proper listen. The band has been on my radar since they dropped Roads to Judah in 2011, but it wasn’t until Sunbather, and the press that surrounded itthat they became impossible to ignore. Universally celebrated by critics and unprecedentedly polarizing among metal fans, the album received almost too much attention. I didn’t want to go near it. In its first few months, Sunbather was like a cup of excruciatingly hot tea. It could be the best tasting tea in the world, but it’s still going to burn the fuck out of your mouth if you don’t first let it cool. I wanted nothing less than to be swept up in the buzz surrounding the band for fear of the influence it might have on my opinion of the music. So, I decided to let it steep.

Eventually, time passed and I never did set aside that afternoon I wanted with the record. In 2014 the band released the single “From the Kettle onto the Coil” as part of the Adult Swim Singles Program, followed by last year’s New Bermuda. Somewhere in between I found myself reading up on the band. I was lost in their story, amazed at how far they’d progressed in a little over a year. With determination and a hefty dose of luck, band members George Clarke and Kerry McCoy catapulted their way from living in squaller in San Franstruggling to even pay for instrumentsto landing a record deal and riding a tour bus in support of New Bermuda. The cards certainly fell their way, but it’s never just about luck.

Take any press shot of Deafheaven and it’s easy to see why metal purists are all up in arms, and why they’ve been misconstrued as rich, suburban-raised posers. Nothing about the band’s image screams metal. They look edgy, sure, but their conservative garb and pretty faces deviate from what we’ve come to expect as METAL. Beyond what they look like and where they are from, part of that community will always have qualms with the band’s music. On the surface, Deafheaven’s sound is aggressive, inaccessible and wholly in debt to Norwegian black metal pioneers. At it’s core, however, the music is sensitive, an ever-evolving myriad of styles taking queues from not just black metal but doom, post-rock, shoegaze and slowcore. Deafheaven can sound like Mayhem or Mogwai on the same song, and that song will kick ass.

Deafheaven_band

Deafheaven’s early shows saw them slated next to hardcore and screamo acts, which, ultimately wasn’t the greatest fit for a band whose frontman feels more indebted to the Red House Painters than he does Rites of Spring. At the end of the day, Deafheaven simply identify as metal, rather than getting behind “blackgaze”, “post-metal” or any other number of tags meant to label their sound. Though they would never be quick to admit it, Deafheaven’s sound continues to break ground, where over the span of three albums that sound has been subjected to fine-tuning rather than overhauling.

Roads to Judah
(Deathwish Inc, 2011)

Sunbather
(Deathwish Inc, 2013)

New Bermuda
(Anti-, 2014)

If the hour long Sunbather laid everything out, then New Bermuda was a conscious attempt to hone in on the tone and position the sound more firmly in the spectrum of black metal. The mood here is darker—even down to the cover—but not insufferable. Take the latter half of “Baby Blue,” whose sludge-heavy guitar would satisfy any Sabbath devotee. Deafheaven’s balancing act of loud / quiet dynamics is central to the band’s modus operandi. The listener is often guided to the brink of fatigue a moment before being seamlessly led into an instrumental interlude, soon to be hurled once again into the tumult of the band’s cacophony and Clark’s satanic wailing.

Perhaps the most obvious progression in Deafheaven’s three-album span is their increased confidence in moving through the peaks and valleys. Roads to Judah tried hard to reveal everything at once, Sunbather and New Bermuda are more deliberate in their transitions between styles, to the extent that Sunbathernear-five minute “Windows”— featuring a wavering drone over ominous piano and field recordings of a drug deal going down—doesn’t feel out of place.

Though nothing on Sunbather feels out of place, the songs feel almost expendable. Contrary to how it sounds, expendable in this sense is a good thing. It means the band could have cut any one of the album’s 7 songs and still have something well worth releasing. Do the same to New Bermuda and it would feel like something was missing, as though the final product fell short of the vision that birthed it. It speaks to Deafheaven’s evolution from record to record, and how much more refined their music has become.

 

 

When Bloom Met Connors

bloom_connors

For lifelong music fans, the consumption of music is an addiction. Albums from the past and present are devoured ravenously, like a two-pack-a-day smoker, consuming one just to get the next. The addict spends their days chasing memories, the high never quite the same as it once was. Fortunately, for the music fan, this is where the analogy falls short. Every now and then in the endless search for captivating voices, one comes along that is too arresting to immediately move on from. Kath Bloom is that voice. Her frail, quivering, and emotionally charged music is enough to make the listener put all else aside and just sit and listen. Her music begs to be listened with not just the ears, but the heart.

Long Island born and New Haven, Connecticut raised, Bloom switched from cello to guitar at an early age. She would eventually go on to create a dozen or so albums of delicate folk music, usually consisting of just her voice and an acoustic guitar. She’s become known for her elegant love ballads and a voice that can bring a room to the brink of tears. Along the way Bloom’s song “Come Here” was featured in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and a tribute album honouring her career was also released, featuring artists such as Bill Callahan, Josephine Foster, and Mark Kozelek. Throughout the years, Bloom has worked with a number of collaborators, including the avant-garde guitarist and virtuoso musician Loren Connors.

Today, AtS travels back to the early 80s to revisit three long out of print LPs from Bloom and Connors, representing some of the most impassioned work from both artists’ respective careers.

Round His Shoulders Gonna be a Rainbow
(Daggett Records, 1982)

Restless Faithful Desperate
(St. Joan, 1983)

Moonlight
(St. Joan, 1984)

The duo’s albums from the 80s were not widely distributed. In fact, the early LPs had devastatingly small runs, usually under 500 copies with pasted on covers. Though it’s a tragedy that these albums haven’t been central to a proper vinyl reissue campaign (and likely won’t be because of legalities), it’s hard to imagine any music more suited to the limited run treatment. It isn’t hard to imagine Bloom passing these along to friends and family and selling them for a reasonable price at local shows and markets. It goes along with her humble and completely unpretentious image.

Round His Shoulders Gonna be a Rainbow is 14 songs sung and played by Bloom with Connors contributing his signature weeping guitar backing. Half the songs end in audience applause while a few others—unfolding like experiments for album interludes—feature wordless vocals. Sometimes you can even hear people coughing. Normally, this type of carelessness in recording an album takes away from it, but on Round His Shoulders… it just makes the music more intimate and the players more endearing. Bloom was never overly interested in distributing her music, seeming to be perfectly content in playing to friends and family and keeping her life and art simple.

With a catalog as extensive as Blooms and a style that rarely veers off course it can be hard to recognize the standouts. In the Round His Shoulders… lot, “It’s so Hard” is elevated by its immediate feeling of sadness bestowed upon the listener. It’s the perfect example of how Bloom is able to take a song to near insufferable depths without losing sight of the emotion that drives it. “Fall Again” allows the listener in a little more with Bloom pushing the musicality of her voice, singing “my memory / it’s going nuts it’s going wild on me / I try to show you but you never see / that it’s fall again.”

The following year Restless Faithful Desperate was recorded, a collection of folk songs that probe the depths of love, heartache, sex and despair. Bloom pines for a lover on “Look at Me,” declaring that she would do anything in her power to make him happy if she could. There’s a looming cloud of doubt shadowing her sentiment, as if deep down she knows there is nothing she could ever do. The album’s midsection is the closest Bloom and Connors come to channeling the psych-folk blues of Mazzy Star. Overall the production is cleaner and the songs more focused.

In 2009 Chapter Music reissued Restless Faithful Desperate with Moonlight as a 2cd set, the latter containing some of Bloom’s most memorable songs, including the aforementioned “Come Here”.”Puccini” and “End of the Night” reach comparable heights, the former providing a shred of hope in it’s message: “when your dreams come true you’ll fly / if you want to make them real…” but quickly turns existential: “…even if you have to die / at least you’ll know just how you feel.” It’s a realism that Bloom knows all to well, and one that her fans have come to recognize of songs from her career. Bloom’s allure is in her ability to convey the hardest of truths: love, loss, impermanence, and loneliness. Above all, the deepest of hard truths is recognizing that the only thing we can never run from is ourselves. No one knows that better than Kath Bloom.

Montclair’s Pinegrove Find Their Groove

With a dedicated fan base, Montclair, NJ’s Pinegrove have gained a considerable amount of steam as of late. Their debut on Boston, MA’s Run for Cover records, Cardinal, has received universal acclaim, solidifying what their fans likely felt from that inaugural listen, or after that first witnessing of the band live: that they would outdo themselves from album to album. Technically, Cardinal is only the band’s sophomore LP, so it’s a little too early to tell just how deep the creative well goes. Info on the band is rather scarce, but one source points to a recent relocation to Brooklyn, while the origins of the band stem back to frontman Evan Stephens Hall’s college days, where he met bandmate Nandi Plunkett.

For now, the way things are unfolding for Hall and the current Pinegrove lineup, we’re likely to get more higher profile releases from them. In six years Pinegrove have taken slow, steady steps forward in both song writing and album narrative. An album, after all, is a story. The way one presents a story for the reader to absorb and move through is much like the craft of assembling an album for the listener to hear through. And though they’re still gaining momentum, Pinegrove have managed to tell quite the story already.

meridian

Meridian, 2012
(Self Released)

To sum up the sound of Pinegrove is to sell the band short with adjective-heavy buzz words. Sure, Pinegrove sound a little bit emo, a little bit alt-country, a little bit indie rock, but their rather bookish yet anthemic approach to song writing seems to butt heads with these types of blanket descriptors. Meridian, Pinegrove’s debut LP immediately brings to mind Band of Horses’ debut, Everything All the Time. The big difference between the bands are their songwriting approach, Pinegrove often opting for the more nuanced route, with nothing in their repertoire quite reaching the arena-pleasing energy of “Funeral.”

Though they aren’t arena jams, Meridian’s songs do peak-and-valley to completion in a unique way. Verse/chorus structure doesn’t seem all too important to Hall, taking songs through a winding journey of everyday observation and food-for-thought philosophy. Common themes are one thing but to track a Pinegrove song by its lyrics is to float through Hall’s conscious and subconscious mind, like trying to document a waking dream. Take “Morningtime” for example, where Hall poses the rhetorical question of “What if I went down to the pinegrove / and didn’t find anything?” This statement on the search for meaning is followed by Hall’s account of “trying to capture both ends of the splinter / the visible part between the finger nail / and the part still in my finger.” It’s a small glimpse into the types of images Meridian imparts—but doesn’t force—on the listener, which also include awkward breakfast conversation, ladybugs, ocelots and, of course, meridians.

Unless it sees the light of a reissue, Meridian will likely sit among the lot of good albums from unknown bands that will never get the audience they deserve. The good news is, if this current lineup is the one that sticks then we’ll probably get that reissue, and also a followup to this year’s excellent Cardinal.

cardinal

Cardinal, 2016
(Run for Cover)

Four years after MeridianCardinal feels like a significant step forward. “Size of the Moon” and “New Friends” reappear here but sound more significant in their rerecorded forms. Cardinal‘s opening trio of songs, “Old Friends”,”Cadmium” and “Then Again” bring an as-of-yet unseen energy from the band. The album’s production is cleaner, the songs louder, and Hall’s voice significantly more confident. Opener “Old Friends” begins almost mid-phrase with Hall singing “walking outside labyrinthine over / cracks along under the trees / I know this town grounded in a compass / cardinal landing in the dogwood.” Fifteen seconds in and we’re already given, not just the album’s title reference, but a sense of its overall shape.

Hall strikes me as a small town kind of guy who doesn’t travel much, and in fact he reveals in “Then Again” that when he tried traveling once he “lost his key.” Hall’s hometowness is endearing, and reflects in his profound and personal song writing. “Cadmium” unfolds like a poem in long form, the band summoning a sound that places them anywhere between the midwest and the east coast, but with a subtle yet distinctive southern twang. As “Cadmium” builds Hall’s voice grows more urgent. Percussion is slowly layered into the mix before the whole band erupts on Hall’s proclamation: “If I just say what it is / it tends to sublimate away.” You could read this a few ways but I’d bet Hall is an introvert who’s likely had to learn the hard way of the adverse effects of “bottling” it in.

Though the album is more energetic, it’s not without its melancholic moments. Arguably, Pinegrove is better when served barren. 2013’s & EP was perhaps the perfect synthesis of the slower side of Pinegrove,  and “Waveform” is the closest thing to that lonerism on Cardinal, particularly that one line about an avocado that’s absolutely heart-wrenching—sometimes it’s not what you say it’s how you say it. “Size of the Moon” has been dressed up a bit for it’s rerelease here, but has retained it’s intimacy, thankfully.

In an age where communication is becoming increasingly terse, and songwriting increasingly lazy, musicians could afford to take a lesson from Hall and his band. The reason Cardinal works is not because of its production value, its distillation of musical influences, or even its musicianship for that matter, but because of where it comes from. At no point does the album try to be bigger than itself. It’s a modest affair, simple, and from the heart. It’s refreshing to think that there are artists out there this talented that would still likely rather hang-out and drink with their friends than brainstorm their next publicity stunt on twitter. I’ll gladly eat my own tongue if Pinegrove doesn’t fall into that category.

DIIV – Is The Is Are

“We’re called DIIV. We’re from New York City. Thank you.” It’s the same ten words that come out of Zach Cole Smith’s mouth at the start of every DIIV gig. Youtube commenters from San Diego, Mexico and even as far as Santiago, Chile all recount the same opening phrase. When I caught the band in Vancouver it was those same ten words: “We’re called DIIV. We’re from New York City. Thank you.” Music aside for the moment, Smith’s dry stage humour mixed with the band’s I-could-give-a-fuck persona—along with the members having consistently popped up in the media despite a four year album gap—make DIIV one of the more intriguing outfits feeling their way through the recesses of contemporary dream-pop. Speaking of outfits, did I miss something or are DIIV Brooklyn’s guinea pigs for a pyjamacore movement?  Hard to say the real shape of their bodies under all that fabric.

diiv_is_the_is_are

DIIV – Is The Is Are
(Captured Tracks, 2016)

DIIV played in Vancouver four months ago, at which point the band had mastered much of Is The Is Are live, the album’s tracks in full rotation that night along with a few classics from Oshin. “Bent (Roi’s Song)” and “Dopamine” were obvious standouts from the performance, and this was before I had heard the recorded versions of either. Both tracks, appearing in tandem early on the album, are serious earworms. “Bent..” is rife with hooky, down tuned guitars that feel more indebted to MBV’s “Who Sees You” than Can’s “Mushroom,” despite what Smith might tell you about his influences. “Dopamine,” aside from its account of heroin addiction is the albums’s most inaccurately named song, as its packed with an energy seldom heard on the album. Lyrically, the song is one of Smith’s more sophisticated: “shots ringing out, I’m soaking / eardrums shaking, years start weighing me down / crawling out from a spiral down / fixing now to mix the white and brown.” It’s not Destroyer, but the band doesn’t exactly exist to make poetry. Albiet, in their own regard, they do.

What DIIV certainly do excel at is knowing their range. If Oshin laid out a spectrum for the band’s sound, than Is The Is Are feels almost regressive, narrowing the focus even more. That’s dangerous territory for a band whose box of effects seems to only contain reverb pedals. The good news is that despite the band’s sound showing little evolution, their ability to manipulate the tone of a song has come a long way. Also, over the span of 17 songs, Smith pushes his voice in new ways, feeling his way through more complex verse structures that seed themselves in the listener’s subconscious. A spin or two of “Healthy Moon”, for example, won’t reveal much, but subsequent listens begins to show Smith’s vocal prowess. He’s no Bob Dylan, but he’s learning to accentuate words in ways that have given these new set of DIIV songs a depth, despite seeming shallow at first.

If tone is of main concern here than Is The Is Are is a darker affair than Oshin. Take for example “Blue Boredom (Sky Song),” the Sky in question being Sky Ferreira, who takes full vocal responsibilities on the track, channeling the dread and gloom of early Swans era Jarboe. Or, “Take Your Time,” a chill song even for DIIV’s standards that sounds like an ode to late spring suburban weed burnout. “Mire (Grant’s Song)” is reminiscent of The Cure (and is probably also about weed) while the closer “Waste of Breath” would have floated Ian Curtis’s boat if he were around to hear it.

Back to those ten words: “We’re called DIIV. We’re from New York City. Thank you.” Sure, Smith seems like a funny dude, but these ten words speak a little deeper. DIIV, like any other band trying to make it in the ever more crowded arena of must-hear musical acts, are, in the loosest sense of the word, a brand. A brand needs to sell itself. And how do DIIV sell themselves? It’s a simple ratio consisting of equal parts anticipation, quality and consistency, all of which the band have graciously provided us up to this point.

The Jesu EPs

The devil hates Justin Broadrick, as there are few people who suffer less from idle hands. The moment Broadrick has an idea for new music, it seems there isn’t a thing that can get in his way. Hell, why not just start a band for every new idea? At one point in his career it almost looked that way. The man has more bands to his name than most seasoned bands have albums. Sure, many were short-lived and hardly worth mentioning, but the likes of Napalm Death, Godflesh, Final, and God, would not exist without Broadrick.

Tucked neatly among Broadrick’s impressive list of projects is Jesu, a band seamlessly formed out of the ashes of Godflesh, and Broadrick’s longest standing outfit. In other words, Jesu is Broadrick’s baby, a project whose concept was cut and dry, whose creator reeled at the helm, in full understanding of the project’s boundaries and limitations. Ultimately, Broadrick would cross those boundaries, but not without acknowledging he had done so, and starting a new project, Pale Sketcher, to further explore music that veered from the Jesu ideology.

Jesu’s brilliance lies in Broadrick succumbing to his desires to go pop without ever actually going pop. To Godflesh, and Napalm Death, Jesu is pop. In reality the band’s sound lies somewhere between shoegaze and post-rock with an ever present tinge of Broadrick’s industrial roots. Jesu has released a considerable number of EPs over their decade-and-change existence, and it is the opinion of this writer–whether or not Broadrick himself believes it–that Jesu is served best in smaller doses. Whether it’s the sameness of Broadrick’s guitar or the sameness of his voice, it’s a much harder affair sinking one’s teeth into a Jesu full length (there are of course exceptions. See: Conquerer). However, give the band four or five song slots to fill and they’ll give you much to love before wearing you out.

Heartache

Heartache, 2004
(Dry Run Recordings)

If there was a release that was the clear divide between Godflesh and Jesu, Heartache wasn’t it. Such a release doesn’t exist, exactly. Instead, Heartache, and the self-titled full-length of the same year, were like transition points, allowing Broadrick the space to shift focus from one band to another.

On the one hand, Heartache is stoic and at times even cold. On the other, it’s one of the most emotionally charged releases in Jesu’s lifespan. The instrumental arrangements are precise, avoiding the sameness trap that would plague much of the band’s later work. Especially noteworthy are the drums and Braodrick’s vocals, which would both never again be left as unencumbered by lush instrumental arrangements as they were here, given space to breathe, naturally rising and falling into and out of existence.

Silver

Silver, 2006
(Conspiracy/Hydra Head)

There are few Jesu songs that hit as hard as the title track on Silver. The song is a perfect distillation of the “Jesu” sound: cinematic, hooky, and equal parts heavy and dreamy. How the arc of the song is encapsulated in less than seven minutes and doesn’t feel rushed is baffling. Broadrick is wise in letting the instruments do most of the talking here, the vocals sunk low in the mix until the words “silver’s just another gold” cut through and repeat for the final minute. It’s one of the finer moments of Broadrick’s extensive catalog.

As is typical in Broadrick’s recipe for a well-rounded EP, the track in the second slot picks up the energy level. “Star” is propulsive, with drum tracks that hammer away like in the Godflesh days, but with enough pretty guitar at work to trump any “industrial” pigeonholing. The guitar tricks continue into the closing track, “Dead Eyes,” where more studio is heard than on any of the previous songs. It’s a glimpse into what would eventually become a more hypnotic, electronic driven direction for Jesu. But it’s only a glimpse. On Silver, we get a taste of Broadrick’s genius, where, amidst the spectrum of everything Jesu was and would ever be, the pendulum hung in the perfect place.

Lifeline

Lifeline, 2007
(Hydra Head)

On the heels of Silver was Lifeline, a mere blip in a year that saw plenty of releases for Jesu, including two LPs. However, Lifeline is not to be overlooked, incorporating and expanding on much of the sound that shaped Silver. Later Jesu instrumentals had a tendency to sound rehashed, if not a little boring, but on Lifeline Broadrick was deep in his groove. Gone are the emotional peaks and valleys and hammering drums. In their place is a soup of drum machines and effect-laden guitars. The sound is murky but not sloppy.

The album’s pitfall lies in the third track, “Storm Comin’ On,” which would benefit a lot from the absence of Jarboe (ex-Swans vocalist). Her whisper-quiet verses work for the most part but her throaty delivery of the chorus is cringe inducing. The appropriately titled closer, “End of the Road” makes up for it. Bass-heavy drums break through the murk to start but are soon taken over by an ambient backdrop of looped synthesizer, pattering percussion and Broadrick’s intentionally half-present vocal delivery. For a good minute or two one might forget they weren’t listening to The American Analog Set.

WhyAreWeNotPerfect

Why Are We Not Perfect, 2008
(Hydra Head)

Whether he was appealing to Eluvium fans (the band on the other side of the split album in which these songs originally appeared) or substituting jack and coke with tranquilizer and sleepy-time tea, Why Are We Not Perfect is Broadrick’s most syrupy delivery of the Jesu sound yet. Though some would argue Broadrick set himself up for failure on this one, I’d argue that he got to further explore a side of Jesu that was present from the very beginning. And what format is better than the less comital extended play in order to tap into that facet of the band’s sound?

Vocals have never been Jesu’s strong point, often placed unassumingly in the mix. On these arrangements, which, in Broadrick’s songwriting spectrum are basically lullabies, there is less present noise to hide the voice. The result comes across as more lacklustre than subtle, floating in an awkward middle ground somewhere between post-rock, slowcore and the rainy day electronic indie haze of the Postal Service.

OpiateSun
Opiate Sun, 2009
(Caldo Verde/Aural Exploits)

What is it with Jesu consistently nailing the title track?  “Opiate Sun,” though an obvious parting of nuance for the band, is what I wish all rock music would sound like. That and the opener, “Losing Streak,” are as unobfuscated as they come for Broadrick. And yes, this is Broadrick working alone here, amazingly. “Losing Streak” and “Opiate Sun” compliment each other perfectly, while “Deflated” would be the closest thing here to outright metal had Broadrick passed along lead vocal responsibilities. The EP is a welcome shedding of layers from Why Are We Not Perfect, reigning back a sound closer to that which defined Jesu’s lauded earlier work.