John Rossiter’s rock project Young Jesus has risen again, announcing a new album, Shepherd Head (Sept. 16, Saddle Creek), and sharing its lead single, “Ocean,” featuring Tomberlin.
Shepherd Head finds Young Jesus’ bandleader (and sole original member) “delving deeper into the themes that have always fascinated Rossiter—love, loss and God—approached in a completely new direction,” per a press release. Rather than the usual approach of rehearsing for months, then recording the album live in a week or so, Rossiter opted to incorporate collaboration and improvisation into the process, recording Shepherd Head over years using only a MacBook, GarageBand and an SM57 microphone.
“I would pitch things down an octave and add strange reverb,” says Rossiter. “If a dog barked, I would isolate it and make it part of a beat. I recorded a voice singing on the street just walking by a storefront and autotuned it. Some guitar parts are just mistakes from voice memos that I chopped, stitched and looped. I used sounds of rivers, people walking, friends talking. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t care about the fidelity of the recording. Whatever wanted to be in came in.”
Rossiter dropped out of college to form Young Jesus with two high school friends, releasing Home and Grow / Decompose in 2012 and 2015, respectively. A new locale (Los Angeles) and lineup inspired the band’s next phase: They signed to Saddle Creek and released three acclaimed albums, 2017’s self-titled LP, 2018’s The Whole Thing Is Just There and 2020’s Welcome to Conceptual Beach. Shepherd Head will be their fourth full-length for the label, and their sixth overall.
Our first preview of the album is the mesmerizing “Ocean,” in which the band’s past and present collide: Former Young Jesus members Marcel Borbón Peréz and Peter Martinez (their original drummer) perform the song’s harmonic bass line and programmed percussion, respectively, while Sarah Beth Tomberlin lends her voice to Rossiter’s. The pair consider Shepherd Head’s core themes over this understated, yet rich instrumental, as Rossiter contemplates, “God is just the ocean where I’m lost / ‘What is loss?’ a moon responds / Love is of the questions I ask God.” There’s a sense of cosmic scope to the track, as well as everyday earthliness (Rossiter layers footsteps and leaves crunching into the track as texture), but what ultimately pervades it most is a sense of preternatural calm. “Go / Give your life unto the weave / To the fabric and the seam / To the drift of what you’ll be,” Rossiter and Tomberlin urge, as if in worship of the unseen forces that govern all, not in spite of their unknowability, but because of it. The track’s climactic lyric accepts all of life’s highs and lows—”the grip and the release”—and condenses them into a single instruction: “Walk a fragile path to peace.”
Watch the “Ocean” video (dir. Stuart McClave) below, along with Young Jesus’ 2018 Paste Studio session, and find the details of Shepherd Head further down.
Shepherd Head Tracklist:
1. Rose Eater
2. Ocean (feat. Tomberlin)
4. Shepherd Head
5. Gold Line Awe
7. Believer (feat. Arswain)
8. A Lake
Shepherd Head Art: