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There is a good chance you found us accidentally by using the word “taint” in your search (If you found us on purpose, you deserve our accolades). Of course we don’t know what you were looking for, but you stumbled on a damn cool project. Look around; let us help send you on a musical journey. Here you will find a number of album reviews from the strange and extreme to the tame and mainstream. Our reviewers are a bunch of obsessive miscreants. Most of us are avid music collectors and have been involved in the music world for decades. A couple of us have been in or are still in bands.

There are no rules on Tickle Your Taint Blog. Our reviewers might make you laugh, or piss you off; both results are legitimate. One reviewer might write a glowing review of an album another might tear it apart. We may end up adopting a single review system, such as five stars, or each reviewer may use his own or none at all. We may have a new review every week or we could end up with one every six months. This blog exists as a social experiment to build community among a diverse group of music maniacs – our reviewers and hopefully you. Pull down your knickers, lube up and join us in tickling yours and our taints.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jesu - Ascension

Avalanche Records (2011)

Reviewed by Dave

This month I am writing about the latest release of one of my favorite music finds of the last five years – Jesu's 2011 full length release Ascension. Usually I write about bands that have styles and work with sonic aesthetics that don't fit into easily defined pop music categories, I'll go over my perspective on the overall sound of Jesu and what I really find interesting about their music.

On the surface Jesu is a down-tempo, post-metal band working with aesthetics that could be compared to Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky – with the addition of minimalist electronica synth and percussion elements. This addition of electronic elements is rooted in the prior work of Jesu’s leader, guitarist and vocalist of the 90s industrial/doom band Godflesh, Justin Broderick. I would nominate Godflesh as one of the top three scariest bands of that decade (if you don't believe me pick up a copy of Street Cleane, and listen to the whole album in one sitting.) The key to Jesu's sound is a huge somber, and in my opinion, rather soothing ambiance. The focus of the music is the conflict between huge, heavily distorted, yet very stripped down, slowly pulsating guitar/bass riffs versus simple, serenely sung pop vocal melodies (think John Waters or the Coldplay guy) intertwined with very minimal atmospheric keyboard elements. This dichotomy of sounds, in my opinion, projects a certain warmth and simple human honesty that I really appreciate. When I listen to their music, I think of the unstoppable forces of physics, the movement of astral bodies, the majestic cycles of nature and the bitter sweet existence we all share on planet earth. My brother describes Jesu simply as heavy metal Pink Floyd.

I believe the main element of Ascension that differentiates it from prior Jesu releases is an attempt to push the band in a more straight forward rock direction. A prime example of this change is in the song “Sedatives,” which reminds me more of Dinosaur Jr. than Mogwai. There are no keyboard parts on this track. The vocals are also stripped of most of the reverb and ambient effects I usually associate with Jesu, and they are a little rough, reminiscent of J. Mascis. Finally, the drums, while very simple and minimal throughout the record, are actually playing double time on this track. Overall much of the ambiance which was a big ingredient in prior Jesu releases has been stripped from this album. This lends a certain personal intimacy to the record that I like, and I don’t think it diminishes the overall power of the music. I also like the fact that the bass is actually separated and audible on many of the tracks on this record. The drums have also been turned up. It doesn't sound so much like Jesu is playing in the Grand Canyon on Ascension, more like they are playing in my living room. Some longtime fans of the band may feel rather alienated by these changes to the sound of this record, but I'm more of a rock guy than ambient drone fan so I'll give thumbs up.

 I really like the focus on the simple interplay of instruments in the classic rock combo format. In a sense, I would compare it to Blue in Green by Miles Davis, musical progressions are drawn out and allowed to breath, the listener is given a chance to really appreciate the entirety of each musical phrase and fully assimilate the entirety of each song's composition. That is my favorite aspect of this record. I can really hear and absorb each chord change as Broderick had written them. In a sense, it can be much more musically powerful than the most frenzied math metal slur-blurred, technical, auditory assault. The stand out track for me is “Brave New World.” Compared to prior Jesu releases, it is very straight forward , just three guys in a room rocking out in that contemplative Jesu way, and the guitar work is genius. Since I started listening to Jesu, I have been very surprised at how powerfully simple musical changes come across on their albums. 

So after making a glowing comparison of Ascension to Miles Davis, here are the elements of this album that I don't like. It sounds to me like the production work on this record was rushed a bit. On some tracks the vocals disappear on occasion. Overall the vocals are a bit too quiet on most of the tracks for my taste. Another problem I have with the vocals is that the performances are a bit uneven on several songs; they aren't glaringly bad, but compared to prior releases it is a bit under par. The pop component of the album does require solid singing, and this mark is missed on several occasions. Finally, there are certain bass and keyboard tonal choices on several tracks that I find to be a bit jarring; they detract from the listening experience.    
When I first heard this album, I felt something was not quite right. I didn't really enjoy it, but with multiple listens I have grown to like a number of the songs on this album quite a bit. For those who have enjoyed the pop rock sensibilities of prior Jesu releases, but didn't really like the spaced out aesthetics, I encourage you to give this album a try. I would advise others to go sample the tracks on this album, find the tracks you like on ITunes or similar download sites the band uses, and pay the 99 cents apiece for the downloads. 
In reference to Jimmy’s scale of auto-erotic pleasure produced by this album, 1minute being the lowest score, 10 minutes being the highest, I will give 7.5 minutes.