The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (Re-issue) by Lift To Experience

Release date: February 3, 2017
Label: Mute

When the news came through that one of the greatest albums of all time was being re-mixed and re-mastered, multitudes of Lift To Experience fans around the world rejoiced. Whilst the impetus for re-issuing The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads may have been mainly money, the level of detail that has gone into the re-mix declares something else. It was money that derailed the original album in terms of the finished mix, the band had just enough to get the album recorded and out there. The overhaul took place at the same Echo Lab studio the band worked at on the original version and engineer Matt Pence has done one hell of a job ensuring the sounds Josh T. Pearson, Andy ‘The Boy’ Young and Josh ‘The Bear’ Browning had in their heads fifteen years ago are available for us all to enjoy. As God intended it to sound…

I once had the absolute privilege of supporting Josh T Pearson at his gig in Lavery’s Bar, Belfast. I was a fan of Lift To Experience, so meeting the man in person was seriously daunting and exciting. When he pitched up in the bar, guitar case in hand, long bedraggled beard flowing towards his midriff, and black Stetson firmly pulled down low, I had no idea what to expect, but aside from being loaded with the cold, he was extremely affable and willing to have a natter, though goodness knows what I said to him, mind you.

So how to approach this review? Chances are if you’re reading this you’re already familiar with this immense record, so I’m inclined to lean more towards a comparison of the two versions. The fact is, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with having to put down some words about this collection of sublime music. I don’t have the words to do it justice. It’s often the case that re-masters consist of a bit of minor tweaking here and there, a bit of spit and polish and some fancy packaging. I have never heard a re-work like this one, the updated songs have a renewed vibrancy and every listen brings new sounds. Apparently, no new sounds were recorded, everything you hear on this album was in the original recording.

Opener ‘Just As Was Told’ is an incredible statement of intent, the hurricane of sound of guitars and drums combined with Pearson’s fire and brimstone preacher man delivery is thrilling. With the drums higher in the mix, they now carry a real hefty thump. The string bending theatrics producing that woozy warped sound is more apparent and I never realised there are some insane whirring guitars in the end meltdown that scrape your earlobes. That “freight train-a-comin” now almost takes your head off as it charges out of the speakers. I grew up a good church going boy, so those hymnal guitar lines tumbling forth like church bells are familiar to me, though I can’t place the hymn so I mustn’t have been paying enough attention.

Throughout the album, there is a newfound clarity and resonance to the guitar tones and a vibrancy in the voices, with background harmonies to the fore. The dynamics of ‘Down Came the Angels’ is quiet and reflective after the tempestuous opener. Pearson’s guitar like waves lapping up onto a beach. Those church choir harmonies giving me the flashbacks again to my childhood and what didn’t make much sense at the time now enhances my listen to this album.

I never fail to have rigid hairs on the back of my neck with every listen of ‘Falling from Cloud 9’. The original mix seems so muggy, the pounding drums of the new version making you feel like your head is in the kick drum. Those high end guitar notes flicker and float like never before. Then there’s the glorious opening of thunder clap drums and rolling guitars. Lift To Experience don’t do regular song structures, there are no choruses, and the songs are allowed to meander like sermons, the (Holy) spirit moving them along. The section that ends ‘Falling from Cloud 9’ is one of the most impassioned performances committed to tape. Just astounding.

Ten minute epic ‘With Crippled Wings’ has a newfound reassuring warmth and glow, introducing a little hope to what was originally a track with a cold chill permeating through it. Split in sections, part one is a gentle sail in quiet waters that builds with a wondrous use of dynamics into a tumultuous stormy sea of guitars and choppy drums, before returning to quiet ambience and atmospherics.

I often think of ‘Waiting to Hit’ as the companion to ‘Falling from Cloud 9’, there’s a recurring few notes that permeate their way through both tracks. I now hear guitars that are more alive and akin to the pitch bending heroics of Loveless, that seemed almost undetectable on the original. Overall, the guitars have more aggression and life and as for the drums… The end section is truly a triumphant affair. Pearson often throws in some self-deprecating humour to lighten the intensity of the religious themes, most notably the agreement between a “stupid ranch hand in a rock n’ roll band” and God to “give me a smash hit”. Even those religious overtones of the album get a touch of humour with the marvelous couplet “Born in a manger covered in afterbirth, we’re taking her for all she’s worth”.

Ever a sucker for violin, the soothing drones on ‘The Ground So Soft’ are pushed high in the mix. The swelling bass in the intro is ground shaking with intensity now adding extra apocalyptic value. Those sound effects throughout the (now cathedral sounding) heavenly hymnal chorus feels like a nuclear sized explosion. On ‘These are the Days’, the guitars reach levels of intensity that only the finest post rock bands conjure up, think Mogwai doing one of their BIG metallic moments. Those opening guitar notes are now like needles and the spaced out end section now has added textures and sounds bubbling to the surface that were previously swamped in murky waters. It could be tongue in cheek but I wouldn’t be surprised if Pearson meant the line “simply the best band in the whole damn land, and Texas is the reason”. The might have left us a legacy of only one album, but what an album, how would they even start to better this?

The deft guitar lines and effects on ‘When We Shall Touch’ are a definite nod to Cocteau Twins, obviously down to the involvement of Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie. One of the astounding features throughout the album is the ability to switch from tenderness to fury in seconds, echoing the dynamics of a fiery preacher man in full flow. Never afraid to lean on his religious upbringing, the tumbling streams of consciousness are akin to speaking in tongues. The beautiful refrains of sublime melancholia infused with wondrous euphoria at the track’s end are extremely uplifting. Texan shoegaze if you will.

The only lesser moment for me, on this staggering opus is the folk country of ‘Down with the Prophets’. The dancing violins are more intrusive in the mix and Josh’s vocals have become more camp-fire in terms of sound quality. An underwater effect is added to the vocals on ‘To Guard and to Guide You’ and the guitars and drums all sound more levelled out. This new mix enhances the song that previously meandered a little, it now has much more appeal for me. Can you always say that about a remix job?

Album finale ‘Into the Storm’ has been given a fairly radical overhaul, the drums have added punch, the guitars added bite, and they now crawl all over your skin. The wondrous euphoria of the final moments of part one of the track are now a more joyous affair with the added vibrancy of the mix. In the current political climate and the imminent Trump shitfest about to drop on us, the line “when America falls the world will fall with her” is scarily prophetic, which is just one reason why this album is as vital now as it was fifteen years ago. But all is not lost, the refrain “…we shall be free”, resplendent with handclaps and sumptuous harmonies gives us all a little hope. In these times, that’s all we have. But then the sinister droning refrain appears at 24:24 which is nothing short of apocalyptic, even complete with drums that sound like the clattering hooves of the four horsemen.

There is a request from many fans to have Lift To Experience reform properly and record new music and tour. Unlike some bands who just don’t know when to quit, Josh T Pearson is fairly adamant this won’t be happening. In some ways, this adds to the intrigue and greatness of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, even what could be seen as a money making exercise is anything but. This legendary album has been given a whole new lease of life and I hope that it reaches a wider audience than it did on first release. In the words of the great man himself, “…simply the best damn band in the whole damn land”.

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