Justin Broadrick’s musical rebirth since disbanding Godflesh and starting Jesu has been extraordinary, resulting in the most prolific period of the singer/guitarist’s venerable career. Since 2004, along with a pair of excellent, not to mention well-received full-length albums, Jesu has put out six EPs, with several more set to follow in 2008. In conversation with Broadrick this past fall, even he admitted amazement at the rate at which he’s releasing new music. “It’s ridiculous, I have to stop myself from writing, I just come up with too much music,” he said. “Whereas with Godflesh, from the mid-period onward, it was a struggle to come up with what I thought was the right stuff, but with Jesu it flows so easily that I have to keep myself away from my studio, to stop myself from writing yet another album.”
What makes this creative run so much more special has been the quality of the music Broadrick and Jesu has written and recorded. The albums, 2005’s Jesu and 2007’s Conqueror, of course, have attracted the majority of the attention, but those smaller releases, especially those from the past couple years, have often been just as revelatory. 2006’s Silver EP had Broadrick stressing hooks instead of his usual dominant, heavily layered guitar sound, the shimmering melodies a watershed moment or Jesu, leading to the more even balance between heaviness and prettiness on Conqueror. On Sun Down/Sun Rise, on the other hand, Broadrick and his band of bassist Diarmuid Dalton and drummer Ted Parsons flexed their shoegaze muscle on a pair of epic tracks, serving as a sublime companion piece to the more accessible Conqueror.
The four-track Lifeline EP continues Jesu’s steady evolution, as Broadrick keeps on moving steadily away from the more unsettling, angry tones of Godflesh. At the same time, while the melodies have become increasingly wistful, the Godflesh influence remains ever-present, Broadrick’s guitar tone dominating and Parsons’s methodical, metronomic drumming style slowly but insistently driving the music. Still, when you hear something as low-key as the title track, which kicks off the EP, the separation from Godflesh, as far as sentiment is concerned, is wide, incredibly so. Drifting from the effects-drenched tones of My Bloody Valentine and Ride (two bands that will always be brought up in a Jesu review) to the more spacious, ethereal strains of the closely-related sounds of dreampop, “Lifeline” is as light as “Christbait Rising” is monolithic, airy synths (or is it layered feedback drone?) dominating the song’s latter half as Broadrick continues to strengthen his vocal delivery, his melodies as melancholic as we’d expect.
Conversely, “You Wear Their Masks” treads territory more familiar to Jesu fans, as the guitar is given much more weight, its darkwave-inspired melody enhanced subtly by some of Broadrick’s trademark crunch. “End of the Road”, meanwhile, is blatantly, almost defiantly accessible, as acoustic guitar and arpegiatted synth notes add an innocent quality to Broadrick’s already winsome and reflective arrangement, as he unabashedly displays optimism, crooning his lone verse like a mantra: ” If these scars don’t heal / I don’t mind / There’s a cut somewhere / I can’t find / Lose it again / I don’t mind / I’ll be at peace / Still inside.”
By far the most daring track on the disc is “Storm Comin’”, a collaboration with former Swans vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe. Like the great Diamanda Galas, Jarboe possesses one of the most unique, charismatic, versatile voices in music today, and over Broadrick’s backdrop of looped guitars, thrumming bass, and drum machine, Jarboe slowly, steadily works her way into the mix, going from a gentle whisper, to a menacing snarl, to soaring vocalizing. It’s Jesu’s most outwardly theatrical piece of music to date, embracing understated melodies, instrumental bombast, and powerful vocals like Broadrick has never done before.
The success of “Storm Comin’” bodes well for 2008, as Broadrick and Jarboe have teamed up for the upcoming J2 project, which will be released in EP form this coming spring. Since the next Jesu album won’t see the light of day until we’re well into 2009, and judging how Broadrick seems to be on the best roll of his life, we’ll take any side project Broadrick will toss our way.