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-Raysâ€¦" 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.