The Chicago-bred L.A. transplants return just a year after the release of S/T -- a record that signaled the rebirth of the band. Before S/T, Young Jesus were found perfecting a Hold Steady-esque line of indie rock on 2015's Grow/Decompose, then a marked spike in their evolution took place. In a move that often felt more like the band were taking their cue from Slint rather than the Brooklyn rockers, Young Jesus produced an album of reshaped, sprawling, improvised rock. If that record felt like the band were just getting started, The Whole Thing Is Just There sees them truly run with it.
The album's six songs are not only lengthy, they also subvert the verse-chorus-verse tradition in favor of sprawling, unpredictable sonic narratives. Opener "Deterritory" rattles toward a wildly delirious crescendo and the assertion "it's not enough to hate the world we live within," which makes for a bracing introduction to an album of frantically divergent trails. On the other hand, "Fourth Zone Gates" offers a stream-of-consciousness lyrical slant, and a balmy musical backing to match. But it's a dream broken by steely, lacerating guitar eruptions, which indicate how determined this record is to play with listeners' senses.
The musical eccentricities of the record are paired with big themes and an emotionally raw vocal performance from frontman John Rossiter. "Saganism vs. Buddhism" pitches science against spiritualism only to discover they're not mutually exclusive, but it's perhaps the piercing acknowledgment of mortality evident on "For Nana" that emphatically cuts to the quick. At its center, Rossiter surrenders to hard truths without faltering ("I won’t see you anymore/life's a fit of moving on/blood and breath will leave you sore") on a glistening rumination on loss and the finality of death. It's far from sugar-coated, but an oddly comforting awakening nonetheless.
In an act of seemingly commercial indifference, Young Jesus close the record with 20-minute-plus "Gulf." In a century that's "moving too quickly," Rossiter transposes Leonard Cohen's "crack" for a gulf, but also hopefully insists, "In these awful moments/there’s a brightness everywhere." That brightness really comes to fruition as the song concludes with cascading guitars and Rossiter's burning vocal. The Whole Thing Is Just There is far from a neat, conclusive record, but it's a compelling one that acknowledges the opaque nature of existence and our ability to reflect that through art, or as Rossiter sings, "how a feeling is a song/so incomplete."