This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"One hand will wash the other" - Jawbox

News item the first: This weekend has been kind of a bummer in some ways, not in other ways. Channels cancelling their show, the Hank III show tonight being sold out by the time I got there, Hank III's publicist not calling as scheduled for the interview, yadda yadda yadda. But, there have been good things. I think I might get involved in literacy programs again, got to see The Departed with my buddy Chris, and my dad's birthday is tomorrow, which means at the very least a decent steak. Also, I have Monday off, which means I'll probably be hitting up Record and Tape Exchange, Crooked Beat, and/or Orpheus to see what's new.

News item the second: I've discovered probably the tackiest porno series since Fart Hammer and Slap Happy. It's called Border Bangers, and normally respectable Latina actresses like Ava Devine ham it up as barrio sluts trying to avoid deportation by getting freaky with INS agents. It's awful in the best possible way.

News item the third: Finally started working again on my next novel, the working title of which is Jesus Christ's Lust For Glory. I imagine most people are turned off by the title, but it's more a satire on the nature of Western celebrity than anything else. And yes, I know how awful and pretentious that sounds. As someone who's read Occidentalism twice, please just trust me on this one. All I can say is that it will be about a million times better than In the Presence of Hipsters.

I've been on an alternative kick this week (I'm sure my friend Beth would be proud), so expect other posts this week to include Matthew Good, Squirrel Bait, Handsome, the Lemonheads (the new album is better than it has any right to be), and the Stones Roses.

Jawbox are one of the best bands ever to spring forth from my hometown. In a country where the indie kids are more apt to look to New York or LA for the next great band, I think DC has been criminally underrated, no matter how many articles are written about Fugazi or Q and Not U. I think part of it has to do with the transitory nature of the groups. As I noted in an earlier post, a lot of would-be significant DC groups break up before they have a chance to really flex their muscles beyond a brief but white-hot entrance. Look at Void or the Holly Rollers.

After he joined Government Issue as a bassist during their we-wanna-be-Husker-Du phase (aka right before they broke up), J. Robbins was introduced quickly into the passionate (but fickle) DC scene. It's where he "paid his dues" (just ask my best friend Jon about the movies Jake Steed made with Peter North) and cut his teeth. Almost immediately after G.I. broke up, Robbins formed Jawbox with bassist Kim Colleta and drummer Adam Wade. They put out an EP on their self-created DeSoto Records (which is still around), and then proceeded to put out two records on DC's perennial Dischord. The first one, Grippe, was done as a result of the "hey, we wrote 12 songs" mentality that seems to plague most bands, and it's telling that the best song on the album was a cover of Joy Division's "Something Must Break." Their sophomore album, Novelty, was a big improvement, but still lacking in something. It was above average DC post-punk, but that's all it was, y'know? Once again, it's telling that the epochal single "Tongues," which wasn't added until later, was the best song on the album.

During this perod, their line-up was shifted. In 1991, Bill Barbot of Clambake signed on as second guitarist, and Wade left to join Shudder to Think. Enlisting new drummer Zach Barocas (who brought a jazz-influenced sound than was more DeJohnette than Tommy Lee) was a big step in the right direction and promised better albums from the group.

Then in 1994, Jawbox did something no band had ever done before. They jumped ship from unber-indie Dischord for Atlantic Records. No one had ever left Dischord for a major before, so Jawbox's move was more surprising that the bands that jumped from SST or Twin-Tone. Unfortunately, the pallor it cast over their two major label albums obscured the fact that both records were easily the best things they had ever done, not to mention two of the best albums of the 90's.

1994's For Your Own Special Sweetheart is a killer record, and one that still manages to sound accesible in spite of the deliberate rhythm changes that Robbins' songwriting always dictates. The qausi-not-really hit "Savory" is probably the most immediate song on the album, but tracks like "Jackpot Plus!" and "Cooling Card" demand more than a passing listen. Unsurprisingly, Sweetheart failed to generate any mega hits. It didn't follow the LOUDquietLOUD formula of the time and required two or three listens before it really sunk in. This, of course, has always been a hinderance to commercial success.

None of this can explain, however, how their fourth and final record, 1996's amazing Jawbox, was relegated to the cut-out used bins almost immediately upon release. Standing with In Utero or Beautiful Midnight as one of the best alternative rock albums of the last 15 years, Jawbox is an album that seems like it would be impossible not to garner a hit from. Fiery intial single "Mirrorful" (about how full of shit history classes are) seems like it should have been a huge hit in the ages of the Cranberries. "Livid," "Won't Come Off," "Excandescent," "Desert Sea," "Capillary Life," and the stunning "Empire of One" (after which my close friend Josh Washburn named his killer band) should have all been huge hits. Once again, I have to ask myself why shit like Bush or Stone Temple Pilots hit the top 40 while bands like Jawbox remained mired in the bottom of the charts.

Of course, no band make two flops at a major and lives to tell about it. Jawbox broke up about a year after their last record came out. What they left behind are some killer songs, two albums better than what most of their peers were putting out, and a tradition of J. Robbins putting together bands with amazing drummers. Don't you dare write the history of alternative rock without a chapter on them.


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