Jets To Brazil [I]Four Cornered Night[/I] Review

Having exorcised whatever remnants of the old punk rock demons that were lingering from his past on Jets to Brazil’s 1998 debut, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, former Jawbreaker front-man Blake Schwarzenbach has freed his new quartet to focus on songwriting. And on the Jets’ sophomore effort, that becomes obvious about three songs into the 13-track disc. After the up-tempo opener, "You’re Having the Time of My Life," the band settles into ’70s FM radio mellow-rock mode with the addition of piano and organ. By the time we reach the fourth and fifth songs, the band’s making music that would be more at home on records like Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (the "My Life" sound-a-like "Pale New Dawn"), Jackson Brown’s Running on Empty ("In the Summer’s When You Really Know") or Bob Seger’s Night Moves ("Empty Picture Frame"). It isn’t until the second half of the disc that they pick up the rock again, but only for a couple of songs. But while the record is a far cry from the aggressive power pop of the band’s debut, it’s arguably stronger, at least in terms of songwriting and cohesiveness. On reflection, Orange Rhyming Dictionary sounds very much like a cathartic solo experiment from Schwarzenbach where Four Cornered Night is clearly a more collaborative effort. The performances are more confident and Schwarzenbach’s lyrics and vocals have never been more powerful. Mellow? Yes. Wimpy? No.

Jets To Brazil [I]Orange Rhyming Dictionary[/I] Review

whale’s- forehead bow lies a section primarily reserved for a cast of communist who’s- whos and entertainment nabobs. Astrud Gilberto, settled opposite me, massages my feet, stopping occasionally to suck on a big toe, which especially tingles when she has a mouthful of Juan Carlos Jobim’s "Mangoritas" (151 + pureed mango + triple sec + tequila).

"I zink, Brent, zat you are being too literal wis zis review," declares Astrud, sucking up pink alcohol.

"Listen, baby. I know you’re a jazz lady, but my readers really wanted another of my trademark, wacky, loquacious reviews," I say.

"And Brazilians don’t talk like ze Dr. Ruth."

"It’s America, nobody will notice."

Jobim and Gilberto come up the cherry red sprial stairs. They giggle and poke each other’s tummies through the billowing openings of their unbuttoned shirts.

"Ah, Brent, Critic From The Future. Please regale us with tales of things to come!" Gilberto cries. He’s really trashed.

"Yes, Brent. Do tell! What ever becomes of our hit song ‘The Girl From Iponema?’" Jobim asks.

"Hmm, well, it’s mostly used as elevator music. Oh, and yeah, it’s in this B-movie about mutant fish called ‘Deep Rising,’ that has this leggy Dane and Treat Williams," I tell him.

"What horror! Is there a point? Tell me, what do people in the future listen to?" Jobim says, visibly hurt.

"Yes, what is that in your ‘Walking Man,’" asks Gilberto.

"This is by a rock and roll band called Jets To Brazil. No one really listens to jazz anymore where I come from… er… when I come from, except for single, older men. This album, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, is this band’s first. But the singer/ songwriter, Blake Schwarzenbach, used to be in this band called Jawbreaker…"

"Mmm, the candy! Yummy!" everyone blurts.

"Yes, the candy. Anyway, Jawbreaker was an emotional punk band– punk being this loud, fast rock ‘n’ roll that brilliantly explored relationships, sex, and politics in a far third. Blake’s erudite lyrics really hit the hearts of jaded 17-24 year- olds. So anyway, Jets To Brazil is Blake’s new band. Lyrically, he’s gone through the expected maturation processes of his late 20′s. There are some reflections on Orwellian futures and the drug and artificial preservatives that are pumped into the humanity of my time. The guy’s just really clever and has a penchant for penning cynical slogans like ‘Be a believer/ believe everything/ you’ll be right/ half the time.’ In fact, you never get a full appreciation for the band until you sit down with the lyrics and read along."

"Buh wha duh e zoun’ li’?" Astrud asks, rolling my big toe on her tongue.

"I’m getting to that. See, when I first heard Jets To Brazil I was scared. I heard keyboards, which got really popular in the early ’80s and really re-popular in the late ’90s. I thought Jets succumbed to retro- revival. ‘Resistance Is Futile’ and ‘Lemon Yellow Black’ bounce along on an ’80s new-wave beat. But the more you listen to it, keeping the lyrics in hand, the more it begins to sound like new new-wave instead of retread, old new-wave.

"The album signals a whole new post- movement, not a fascimile of old post- punk, which, if you think about it, would be pre- when- I- come- from. Am I making sense?"

"Everything makes sense when I have a quart of Mangoritas in my gut," Gilberto states, before belching.

"Yeah, so, like, you just know this album is going to make tons of kids go out and buy keyboards– which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Thanks to the production on the record, an organic mein still circles the sound. The bass just hums as if you’re leaning against the cabinet. The chugging guitars are just one pedal away from being clean. But the glorious moments on Orange Rhyming Dictionary flow from the slower, moodier songs. Blake’s lyrics have more room to breathe, and fluorescent- illuminated air becomes a fourth instrument.

"Also, these songs tend to be the ones about girls– love poetry. On the acoustic ‘Sweet Avenue’ Blake sings, ‘Holding you we make two spoons beneath an April moon/ Everything is soft and sweet/ This cigarette, it could seduce a nation with its smoke/ Crawling down my tired throat/ Scratches part of me that’s purring.’ That’s some beatnik lovin’ right there. Beautiful stuff."

"Brent, we’d like to hear this Jets to Brazil," pleads Jobim.

"I’m afraid I can’t do that. It might disrupt the whole space- time- rock continuum. Suffice to say that this album is a mixed bag of up-tempo, new new-wave pop and achingly graceful power ballads. In the calender year 1998, you should pick it up. It’s one of the best pop records I came across that year.

"Enough of this boring talk," declares Astrud, standing up in the tub, mud dripping of her tall and tan and young and lovely (and naked) body. "Let’s bossa nova!"

Jets To Brazil [I]Four Cornered Night[/I] Review

Perhaps one of the most anticipated albums of the year after the band’s debut, Orange Rhyming Dictionary, became so well accepted, Jets to Brazil’s second album does not disappoint. But while Dictionary was forced to be labeled as the "new Jawbreaker band," due to Blake Schwarzenbach handling vocal/songwriting/guitar duties, Four Cornered Night should be able to stand completely on its own. As if the band understands that as well, this album definitely feels more comfortable and mature than its predecessor, clearly showing a band coming into its prime.

But if you somehow passed on the Jets’ debut, don’t expect Jawbreaker-style post-punk rock. Jets to Brazil is all about a guitar-focused blend of indie pop and rock. And taking the focus of each song is Schwarzenbach’s often cryptic vocals, which are often a bit more structured here than on Dictionary.

If forced to make comparisons, I’d say Four Cornered Night owes more to to the Beatles and the Who as Jawbreaker and that band’s punk predecessors. There is definitely the feel that you get when listening to classic rock today, as if it was all about the structure and the clean, precise sounds rather than getting edgy or pushing the boundaries of rock. Some of the songs here, like "One Summer Last Fall," the downright stellar "In the Summer’s When You Really Know," and "Little Light" use plenty of piano and light drumbeats to definitely harken back a bit to that Beatles sound, pushed into the 21st century. Matthew Sweet has a knack for doing that, and while Jets don’t pay homage to the Beach Boys the way Sweet does, there’s definitely some similarities. In fact, much of the first half of the album has a more poppy, bouncy feel, especially on songs like "Your Having the Time of My Life" and "Air Traffic Control," with its Byrds-like guitar riff. The aforementioned "In the Summer’s When You Really Know" is probably the highlight of the album, with its more melancholic beauty and the soft piano throughout. And the closer, "All Things Good and Nice," despite its love-fest lyrics, ends soft and pretty and deeply personal, much as Dictionary ended.

But there are definitely some more modern rockers as well, and moments of even the more poppy songs that come across as more powerful through some killer guitar riffs, heavy bass and more complex drums. There’s something of a Sonic Youth style buzz to the guitars on "Pale New Dawn," and Blake’s voice reaches some of his vocal extremes. There’s definitely some killer riffs and straight-ahead rock to "Your X-Rays…" This one blows me away every time I hear it. "Mid-Day Anonymous" sounds perhaps the most similar to Dictionary, with its focus on guitar instead of piano and a subtly poppy beat. Strong, echoing guitar and heavy bass and drums make "*****" one of the strongest rockers on the album, and "Orange Rhyming Dictionary" (what’s it doing on this album?) is another powerful track.

And some of those unusual lyrics you’ve come to associate with Jets to Brazil are back. "They give you a Food Stamp for the air sucking wound in your chest. All the best, all the best," Blake sings on "Pale New Dawn" to a pretty piano line. On "In the Summer’s When You Really Know" is my favorite line: "And a long walk off a short pier means nothing more than swimming here." And how about the opening to "Milk and Apples:" "Now she’s milk and she’s apples / you’re scotch and segregation / lips like molasses / you’re smiling saccharine sidewalks." Vintage Jets to Brazil.

Four Cornered Night wasn’t precisely what I was expecting from this band, but that takes nothing away from the music. Yes, the band is taking a page from their music roots and embracing a more pop-focuses sound, but there are moments of power and intensity as well. But then, Jets to Brazil was likely never meant to be the power-rock titan that Jawbreaker was. Instead, it’s all about the music and the lyrics, and in accomplishing that goal, it’s sheer brilliance.

Jets To Brazil [I]Orange Rhyming Dictionary[/I] Review

I have to admit that when I first heard this I hated it. But a look at the impressive resumes of the three band members (ex-Jawbreaker, Texas Is The Reason, and Handsome) forced me to give it another chance. After a few more listens, I was quickly warming up to it. Then one day, out of the blue, it hit me with like a thunderbolt and Orange Rhyming Dictionary hasn’t left my CD player since. It’s hard to describe emo/punk as ‘beautiful’ but the songs on this album are as close as you get.

This is what happens when musicians trade in sheer power for intelligent lyrics and a pop sensibility. Orange Rhyming Dictionary is a collection of anthemic rockers, New Wave influenced pop, and deep, brooding slower pieces. But under layer upon layer of sweet hooks and some power chords is a dark, intensely personal journey into pain, disappointment and love.

Vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Blake Schwarzenbach has matured into one of the most engaging songwriting talents around today. The album’s heady lyrics and Blake’s knack for loose reference (“Noise police white hearse TV air wave methadone/Diet contact safe sex antibiotics/For your safety we’ve taken sharp objects it’s their object to keep you from waking”) make the material irresistible. If you don’t believe me then just take a listen to “Sweet Avenue”, the album’s final and most powerful song. With lyrics like “Now all these tastes improve/Through the view that comes with you/Like they handed me my life/For the first time it felt worth it/Like I deserved it”, the song is an ironic centerpiece delivered by a threesome who made names for themselves playing speedy, punk rock. It seems fitting that Jets To Brazil might actually live up to the potential of their earlier bands. Definitely one of the best album’s I’ve heard all year.

Jets To Brazil [I]Orange Rhyming Dictionary[/I] Review

Ex members of Jawbreaker, Texas is the Reason, and Handsome. Interesting album, more poppy than rock. Lyrics reminiscent of Guided By Voices. This album definitely grows on you with more listens. It’s not quite like anything I’ve heard before, and so most reviews I’ve read pretty much don’t sum up the band. I know this doesn’t either. But I think this is the direction rock is headed, as many former emo bands seem to be breaking new ground (Jawbox, Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World). Listen for the keyboards, it’s not so much a throw-back to 80s synth new-wave rock, but a sure sign that any instrument can work in a rock song. I saw them live, and they sounded incredible.