Justin Broadrick brings a little light on a fantastic new album.
Justin Broadrick’s career can be seen as one long, slow comedown from the birth of punk. As a teenager, he played lightning-fast riffs and helped write the world’s shortest song (“You Suffer”) as part of Napalm Death, the pioneering grindcore band. After only a couple demos and one half of a full-length, Broadrick left ND and formed Godflesh, and for over a decade soldered jackhammer backbeats onto mid-tempo industrial guitar squalls, turning out a number of classic albums in the process. After that band’s dissolution, he moved on to Jesu, essentially a solo project at this point. After an EP that sounds an awful lot like Godflesh, Jesu released a self-titled album that essentially set the template for all that would follow: glacially-creeping drums, acoustic or programmed, knock out 4/4 patterns under riffs that almost strictly stick to the downbeats, CHUN CHUN CHUN CHUN, as a voice slathered in vocoder and delay sings along with piercing synth and piano lines.
For four-lengths and a good number of splits and EPs over the course of 10 years, Broadrick has almost never wavered in his commitment that Jesu must sound this particular way. Though he has increasingly inserted pieces of shoegaze, electronica, and even Depeche Mode-style pop, the question comes down to whether one likes a particular riff, or whether one doesn’t, because, frankly, you’re going to hear it. A lot.
Of course, there’s variation to be found in Jesu’s work, just as Godflesh evolved over time. Everyday I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came, Broadrick’s newest, is his poppiest, most beautiful, and, arguably, most satisfying collection since 2006, the year Conqueror, Sliver, and Lifeline, my three favorite Jesu releases, came out. “Comforter,” the second track, bears clear traces of Takk…-era Sigur Rós, with a glowing wall of voices running in reverse surmounted by sampled acoustic guitar and a clear, bouncing piano melody. Of course, the CHUN CHUN drops eventually, though in Everyday Broadrick seems to have traded in quarter notes for eighths, speeding up the songs slightly. In this way, it’s similar to “Clear Stream,” from Jesu’s split with Battle of Mice, both attempts at pop songs with clean harmonies and prominent vocals. For a man who made his name playing fast and ugly, Broadrick has come a long way.
Of course, this isn’t exactly news. His journey to the valley of slow riffs has possessed his entire career, and while countless acts before have blended harsh noise and stunning beauty, Broadrick always had a way of cramming one into the other. His thought process seemed to say, “You want heaviness and I want to write pop songs, so why don’t I just play both at the same time?” It turned out some great stuff, but almost felt sloppy, as if he wasn’t taking the time to properly integrate everything. The clearest example of this, Jesu, runs a little too long and can’t quite decide what it wants. In some ways, this is a positive, but viewed through the long arc of a career still very much alive, it feels more like a start, not an ideal in and of itself.
Everyday is a hell of a lot closer. Between the swooning guitar pings of “Everyday” and “Heartsick” with its Red House Painters vocal, it feels like a cohesive unit, a vision realized. Once again the album’s only performer, with the exception of string player Nicola Manzen, Broadrick has crafted five stunning pieces, each relating to the other but never the same. “The Great Leveller” unspools its 17 minutes wisely, beginning as a piano ballad marching to double-tracked snare drums, crashing into a sludgy pattern that splits the difference between Neurosis and Slowdive, and eventually decomposing at the half-way point before Broadrick’s heavily-modified voice jabs out into the mess, signaling that “there is no meaning” as Manzen’s rapturous strings swell. It’s possibly the most affecting piece of music that Broadrick has ever released, Jesu or otherwise. Symphonic without being melodramatic, it somehow feels huge and intimate in the same moment, in the same space. Where previous Jesu records would have pushed these dichotomies to their limit in the listener’s face, now they simply coexist.
Any listeners that enter at this point will have a large and confusing back catalog to enter if they want to hear anything else like Everyday from Jesu. But as much as it feels like another step towards that light, the album reflects the work that came before it. You have Conqueror’s pop, Jesu’s texture, Silver’s beauty, with a mix of the electronic experimentation that Broadrick has played around with on EPs and splits. If Jesu became slightly predictable over the years, this was partially due to its distinctiveness, born of a love of 80s pop that Broadrick’s imitators simply don’t have. Thankfully, Everyday innovates within that formula without corrupting it, and proves that the waters of his inspiration have yet to run dry. It’s a high mark in a career full of them.