Punk dropped. Like fell, from a plane screaming overhead, and when it detonated, the mushroom cloud of sneering attitude blocked out the sun and all its light. Sometimes this was beneficial—the symbolic destruction of everything that came beforehand allowed for a plain, flat playing field, at least for the first little while—but after a point the ground-zero dismissal of everything before D-Day (wherever you place it; whichever side of the argument / ocean you’re on) is just plain ignorant.
I was guilty of it for a time; other people in “the scene” were, too. It’s all part of the process, the rebellion against the foundations and rudiments which gain value upon returning to them.
So maybe, kids of yore, it’s time to return to Jets to Brazil’s Four Cornered Night, a record unfairly maligned by obsessives and fan-boys / gals for not sounding like __________: like singer Blake Schwartzenbach’s late lamented trio Jawbreaker, like the debut JTB rec Orange Rhyming Dictionary.
More than anything in the Schwartzenbach catalogue / canon, the record is maligned for what it’s not, rather than discussed because of what it is. This is due based in large part in his shift from guitar to keys. Lyrically, the same smart, clever ‘tude steeped in nostalgia is apparent throughout. “In the Summer, You Really Know” is indicative of this non/change: balladry masquerading as emo (or is it the other way around), with heartstring-tugging lyrics and gentle arrangements building to a sensitive crescendo. Had the song been guitar-based, it would’ve appeared as the last track of hundreds, if not thousands, of mix tapes.
Pale New Dawn
If the album can be said to suffer, it’s because of its sequencing: the aforementioned “In the Summer” bleeds into the tame, quiet “Empty Picture Frame,” glutting up and bogging down what’s otherwise an up-tempo record. But “Little Light” quickly sets the record straight, with its rimshot beat and pleasant melody—initially, anyway, it feels like a Mentos commercial before the chorus, which is not so heavy as much as it is arranged.
This is the real reason for the shift—and the real reason why “4CN” initially went over so many heads. With the possible exception of “Dear You,” which was more of an overdub record than one concerned with arrangement; Four Cornered Night was, up to that point, the most complex display of Blake Schwartzenbach’s songwriting chops. In the past (and even recently, with Thorns of Life and Forgetters), the loud-soft bombast was a common trope of Jawbreaker / Jets songs—a good trick, one Blake made work countless times. The added emphasis on piano—and on guitar in the background—caused a shift of both songwriting and production style.
J. Robbins was, and is, an excellent producer, up to the task of using the studio as an instrument (what was the name of that band that did that? You know, before Year Zero? What were they called again? I can’t remember, man). Take “Pale New Dawn” as an example: sure, there’s bombast in the back, during the chorus, but in previous incarnations—“rock band” instead of “songwriter,” say—there would have been nothing but. Nor would the bass during the bridge be so prominent: they give you a food stamp for the air-sucking wound in your chest. Nor strings after that part, before the emphasis shifts back to the guitar before the outro, where backing vocals are added to the song’s weird drawly Dylan rip (pre-Year Zero, sorry).
This isn’t the only song on the album which does this—far from it—but it’s the most egregious, the one which teaches you, three tracks in, how to listen to the rest of the record. So get (back) to it: dig the bleed of “Mid-Day Anonymous” into the creepy chorused “*******,” the call-and-response of “Milk and Apples.” It’s the same stuff you loved before, just, you know, different. Especially now that you’re allowed to get around that Year Zero bullshit and admit that the Beatles existed
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