Young Jesus : The Fool

young jesus the fool review

Back in 2015, Spotify algorithms included Young Jesus in the “recommended if you like” tags of both Titus Andronicus and The Hold Steady, largely due to their second album Grow / Decompose. At the time, the algorithms were right; Young Jesus and its primary songwriter John Rossiter orbited the bleeding heart indie punk lane. Following Grow / Decompose however, Young Jesus albums focused less on rock and served as experimental exercises for Rossiter. S/T from 2017 was infatuated with post-rock and came with a reading list, Welcome to Conceptual Beach featured opening vocals drowned in autotune, and Shepherd Head was indebted to R&B and electronic music. This streak’s peak was 2018’s The Whole Thing is Just There, a beautiful mix of improvisation and indie rock, wherein the group composed only the beginning and ending of the tracks and decided when and how they’d connect the two on the spot during recording. This is to say that The Fool, despite not being standard rock music, is the most closely related to rock Rossiter has been in years because of its striking distance to, like Titus Andronicus before them, heartland rock. 

This subgenre, to greatly reduce it to its lowest common denominator, is about melodrama even in life’s smallest avenues. It’s about shooting for the stars on tracks about 9-to-5 jobs. It had a small resurgence in the 2010s with albums like Japandroids’ Near to the Wild Heart of Life and The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream, but didn’t stick around because it is deceptively difficult to execute in novel fashion. Not everyone can imbue every detail with Springsteen’s joie de vivre. Which makes it all the more interesting that Young Jesus’ John Rossiter pulled it off in 2024. 

Unlike most rock music, the guitar is not The Fool’s driving instrument. That’s the piano, the unpretentious and stage-stealing piano. It catapults most songs off their starting blocks as if they’ll eventually become large-scale ballads. “Two Brothers,” “Moonlight,” and “Dancer” all commence with keys that subconsciously prime you for a large emotional outburst down the road. Crucially, none of them, or The Fool in general, ever predictably build to an overzealous climax. Rossiter isn’t clamoring for you to feel him. Many of The Fool’s instrumentals are either quaint heartland tracks or delicate blends of indie rock and electronica. They set the scene without begging for you to feel something. It’s only Rossiter that brings them to life.

In fact, The Fool may be Rossiter’s career best vocal performance. There are no more cylinders he could be firing on. He’s as much a stylist as he is a storyteller, always finding the right delivery to match his tales. On “MOTY,” he pantomimes the put-on confidence that masculine roles foster with a barrel-chested bellow. “The Weasel” finds him recalling Richard Dawson’s off-kilter vulnerability, while elsewhere he’s as minimal as the music.  

Undoubtedly, though, Rossiter’s best moments are when he goes for it. He is a bonafide belter and sings much less than he does transmute his spirit through the microphone. He single-handed turns The Fool’s outlier “Brenda & Diane” into its strongest track by attacking the microphone. It’s the closest he comes to Springsteen. Even tender tracks like “Moonlight” and “God’s Plan” benefit from this approach, displaying not so much how every song should include more belting, but how versatile Rossiter is. 

While Rossiter’s performance may be The Fool’s high point, and the piano the album’s engine, its appreciation for the mundane is the ace up its sleeve. None of its protagonists are glamorous. Their stories are laced with small notes that turn into larger meditations, like on “Moonlight,” which transforms nightime doom scrolling into a need for connection. And this mundanity turns The Fool into a heartbreaking album. Rossiter isn’t afraid to hit you in the gut. Lines like “Am I the only one who asks his love if what I did was wrong when I was younger?” speak to a kindred yet unspoken humanity that Rossiter tangles with. He champions the blemishes that are like small wrinkles shaping the faces of our lives and, when they’re absent, we look alien, and everything feels less worthwhile. For as much as The Fool is about conveying those moments, it’s just as much about celebrating their purpose.

Label: Saddle Creek

Year: 2024

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young jesus the fool review

Young Jesus : The Fool

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