Envy / Jesu - Split (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Envy / Jesu

Split (2009)

Hydra Head

Summer's halfway over, and I still haven't made a beach trip yet. Haven't burnt my feet on sand or dodged New Jersey's tag policy or rocked my beach records. The Mescaleros, Band of Horses and Minus the Bear always put me in a sunny mood, and that reissue of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue was a welcome addition last year. Another album I always spin, preferably at night with the waves crashing in the distance and maybe some percussive rain, is My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. The ultimate shoegaze record, it's a beautiful hazy mess. A thundering behemoth. The dreamiest, the swirliest, the gosh dang bestest. And while I've found other bands that kinda, sorta, almost approximate that sound (M83, Mogwai, Sigur Rós), or rather certain angles of it, nothing has ever quite hit me the same way. And while sometimes that makes me sad, it's still great to hear MBV's ideas live on, however directly or indirectly. Which is why I don't mind the year it took for Envy and Jesu's split EP to drop in the States.

Jesu and Envy are two top-notch post-rock/post-hardcore/post-MBV bands that blend passion and atmosphere quite well. Envy goes first on the split with three tracks. If these songs recall Envy's work with Thursday last year, well, that might be because they were recorded around the same time in 2008. There's a more profound rising/falling arc here than on the Thursday split, and the material, when taken as a whole, feels better conceived. And also like that other EP, Envy comes out sounding like the better band. "Conclusion of Existence" opens the album with a subdued, droning electronic beat and ethereal guitars. It's so hypnotic and calming that when "A Winter Quest for Fantasy" repeats the same trick before exploding during its final 90 seconds, it's revelatory. Here is a band with a grasp of both chaos and order, violence and passivity. After this superb rising action, "Life Caught in the Rain" brings the listener back down. Where Loveless blew out of the gate with "Only Shallow" before creating a mood that stretched across the album, Envy shows moderation upfront, with a dynamic second act. However, all three tracks need to be considered together; the sequencing is crucial.

Jesu fills out the record's back end with two lengthy ambient dance jams. Loveless was a lot of things, one of them being a prediction of the UK's love of jungle and techno. "Hard to Reach" winks at "Soon," blending in cloudy, swirling instrumentation over a mid-tempo dance beat. At almost 14 minutes long, it's somewhat of a patience-tester. But then, if you're going to hate Jesu for droning too much, you probably shouldn't have put ‘em on in the first place. "The Stars That Hang Above You" is more manageable at about half the running time, and just as solid. The tracks lack the flow of Envy's material, though. Not that it's a knock or anything. It's just that Jesu's songs work more individually, especially since "Hard to Reach" cycles through a number of ideas before its conclusion.

I know it's been a year since these songs were written and recorded and what-not, but I can't help but wonder where Envy and Jesu will go from here. Envy's half of this split is arguably the best I've heard from them so far. Jesu's got a full-length and an EP nearing completion for 2009. Until then, at least I've got five more nighttime ocean jams.