For a founding member of Napalm Death, Justin Broadrick sure has come a long way from his grindcore past. From that band’s good-humored pummeling, to the industrial metal of Godflesh and the electronic eeriness of Techno Animal, Broadrick has practically become synonymous with “heavy.” And when he launched metalgaze project Jesu, he continued to mine a realm of crushing lows and choked atmosphere, heaping upon the listener a sound mightier than the heavens or the depths below the earth. Yet on both the Silver EP and second album Conqueror, there was but a small hint of a brighter, more accessible sound lurking within, suggesting that after all these years, perhaps Broadrick is ready to make music a little less ominous and a bit more laid back.
On Jesu’s new EP, Why Are We Not Perfect, the idea of a lighter and more open sound comes to fruition, spreading a more accessible type of shoegazer sound across five tracks (though only three songs, two are represented more than once in different versions). A slowly plodding drum machine beat and swirling electronics open the majestic first track, “Farewell” (not the Boris song, for those keeping score). An immediately striking characteristic upon first listen is the near absence of heavily distorted guitars and low-end. Instead, the track comes off more like a 4AD outtake from the early ’90s, with gauzy atmosphere and gentle vocals in place of crushing heaviness.
The three and a half minute “Blind and Faithless” is a faster and fuzzier track, catchy, yet instrumental, while the title track reverts to trudging dirge form. And while the fuzz and heft have largely been cast aside, the melancholy side of Broadrick’s compositions become more explicit, more up front. More accessible though this may be, it’s far from sunny. The alternate versions of both “Farewell” and “Why Are We Not Perfect” contain some gorgeous production flourishes that provide a bit more elegance to their slow progressions. Yet whether in minimal or more ornamental form, even without the stifling distortion, these songs sound ultimately like classic Jesu.
Broadrick may be turning a new leaf, adopting songwriting and production tactics that once could have been considered very uncharacteristic. But for an icon in heavy music, and an innovator for more than two decades, Broadrick has aged more gracefully than anyone could have imagined.
My Bloody Valentine – Glider
Jesu – Silver
Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.