Monday, May 16, 2005

Jets To Brazil

Jets To Brazil- Orange Rhyming Dictionary

(The expanse of alphabet that’s followed the 27 Jandek review hell marathon has been a particularly tough stretch for me- the letter ‘J’ contains a bunch of records and bands that still resonate deeply. Writing about ________has been a particularly intimidating exercise, because the need to get it all, and right, has been so strong that there have been umpteen drafts trashed, left for dead as my self-imposed deadlines have loomed even larger. Before the Jandek section, it was five days a week. Then the pale Texan knocked me off my horse and I broke out of the habit, the routine. I’ve been spotty ever since. Damn you, Jandek! Damn you to hell! (Enclosed is a check for eight dollars for your newest CD.)

This is my sixth attempt at writing this review. Sheesh. Wish me luck.)

Legions of tight-sweatered fans waited for the Jets to Brazil record with bated breath, hoping for some salve to help ease the pain of their/our dearly departed Jawbreaker. I don’t remember the chain of events that led me to the record store that day- I remember being in Harvard Square with Ed and I think Dina. Dumb luck, probably, that my visit coincided with overeager store employees putting ‘Orange’ on sale a few days early. It might have been a tip, though. Such was the suffering fanbase in those days- anonymous tips, rumors of a new Blake band that mostly wound up being wrong, lukewarm initial reviews. Whatever. It was important enough so that I remember where I was when I bought the record, where I was when I first listened, the rest of the day.

Like I said, lukewarm response from fickle fans. Hell, I remember being shocked that first time. All of the things that I thought were shocking, though, wound up being the things that I liked best about the record. Like the guitars. Jawbreaker, of course, was pretty straight-up, basic guitar rock, in a lot of ways, drawing musically from the bar chord school of punk. Jammin’ econo, three piece, not a lot of space for any sort of experimentation. Jets, though, established very early on that they’re a different band- lots of second guitar lines and overdubs, a more roomy-sounding band. Different tones, too- varying from sparse and brittle to all fuzzed out, sometimes in the same song. Towards the end of Jawbreaker, on ‘Dear You,’ there was starting to be a shift to the kinda boring loud/soft dichotomy that everyone else was doing by then, stepping on a pedal to up an ante that was already sky-high by that point. I think a lot of the initial misgivings about the Jets record were because Blake and co. did a complete one-eighty and focused more on writing songs in new ways than trying to sound like the last thing. My first thought upon listening to ‘Orange’ was that is was right on par with ‘Pink Flag’ and ‘Entertainment!’, but fuller. Does that make any sense?

The lyrics, of course, remain as strong as ever, with wordplay and allusions and elbows in the ribs still coming strong (Who the hell IS Harry Lundt, anyway?). A feeling of detatched melancholy hangs about the record, like taking a Prozac and being able to recognize your depression, far off in the distance. ‘Conrad’ remains the gem- taking the melody of ‘Nowhere Man’ and applying it to the story of a young woman renting a room at a hotel for the expressed purpose of slashing her wrists, with nice nods to the protagonist of ‘Ordinary People,’ for whom the song is named, and (I think- I’ve never seen it confirmed) Joelle Van Dyne, the P.G.O.A.T. from David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest.’

Mix Tape: Conrad

Jets To Brazil- Four Cornered Night

There have been scads of times when the jury of popular opinion has passed down eventually reversed unfavorable verdicts on Blake and his bands. Man, when ‘Dear You’ came out, for example, there was the backlash against Jawbreaker for signing to Geffen, followed by another wave when the record was actually released. They couldn’t give copies away, it was panned so bad, but then eBay happened and all the kids who were busy talking shit or like raving when the album came out wanted to jump on the boat- the scarcity helped reverse the unkind impressions, an article about the making of the record was published in ‘AP’, etc- revision of Orwellian proportions.

Then, after that, ‘Orange Rhyming Dictionary’ was released, and, again, backlash- here’s Blake’s new band, which the kids didn’t like because they didn’t sound like Jawbreaker.

So when ‘Four Cornered Night’ came out, the complaints started that ‘Orange’ was better, another flip-flop of opinion. Sadly, I don’t think that the tide has turned for this album yet- word on the street is that it’s the weakest JTB album of the three. Which, of course, is bullshit. I loved ‘Orange’, but I think this is the gem of the band’s catalogue.

This is the first time that Blake/Jets can be accused of any sort of psychedelia. There’s always been a poppy undercurrent to be found in Mr. Schwartzenbach’s catalogue, but the production on this one takes a front seat, sounds like an additional instrument. Plenty of piano, crisp-sounding arrangements that change at the drop of a hat (‘Pale New Dawn’ is a good example, with new instruments and parts being introduced like ushers at a wedding- “okay, here’s the bass. Now, the drums on the next part. Now, Blake sounding like Dylan in the chorus”).

As per usual, the lyrics stand out and above, even with the best-produced music of the band’s career playing in the background. All of the rumination that made Jawbreaker so dear to the budding emo boys is here in full effect. And get this- some of lyrics manage to be even more self referential than in the past! Didn’t think it was possible, eh? Blake’s singing about, you know, being in a band, and using it as a metaphor, which should have further endeared him to all of the kids that started bands because of his old band! But no!

Jets To Brazil- Perfecting Loneliness

More obviously breakup-based than anything else in the Schwartzenbach catalogue, which is saying a lot. This record just oozes ache, hits you in the nuts with exhausted misery again and again. Some beautifully constructed long songs, little shards of melody gleaming through the sludge of despair. I have to admire the construction of this record- it’s so intense that investing the proper amount of time in its full digestion/appreciation becomes the exercise in loneliness that the title alludes to.


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