Starting Five: Jets To Brazil
by Chad Jewett
More or less an opportunity for the Internet to tell us we’re wrong, Starting Five is also a challenge: choose five essential songs, films, or books that get to the heart of bands, filmmakers, and writers that we love. Today, in honor of Jade Tree Records streaming their entire discography on Bandcamp: Jets To Brazil.
“Morning New Disease”, from Orange Rhyming Dictionary
Two years removed from the dissolution of the beloved Jawbreaker, Jets To Brazil formed around the core of Jawbearker singer/songwriter Blake Schwarzenbach, Texas Is The Reason drummer Chris Daly, and bassist/Cub Country founder Jeremy Chatelain (second guitarist Brian Maryansky would join later). Orange Rhyming Dictionary, the band’s first album, was a taut, prickly combination of post-hardcore, Brit-Pop, and indie rock. Only partially predictive of the more lush, pensive surfaces to come on Four Cornered Night and Perfecting Loneliness, the album is nevertheless a fascinating transitional work, caught between the spiked irony of Jawbreaker’s final album, the once-rejected and now-adored Dear You, and the gentler records to come. As such, “Morning New Disease,” the barbed second track from Orange Rhyming Dictionary is perhaps most representative of the album, and, more broadly, its place in Schwarzenbach’s four-decade discography. Variably dissonant and tuneful, nervy and gentle, sporting jagged verses and hushed, rich choruses “Morning New Disease” epitomized the complex, expansive approach of Jets To Brazil.
“You’re Having The Time Of My Life”, from Four Cornered Night
Listening to the song fourteen years later, one can’t help but hear the crystalline arpeggios that begin “You’re Having The Time Of My Life” as a sort of bright, immediate statement of purpose. Beginning an album full of just the kind of partly-cloudy guitar pop that the song’s spangling introduction evokes, the opening notes of “You’re Having The Time Of My Life” have the quality of the first few seconds of “At Your Funeral” or the short monologue of “Worms Of The Senses / Faculties Of The Skull”. It’s a statement of arrival. The rest of the song follows in kind, sweetening the edgy fractiousness of Orange Rhyming Dictionary to something more closely resembling the proportions of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Built around swing-timed strums and an all-time great chorus from a song-writer who more or less specialized in great choruses, “You’re Having The Time Of My Life” might be the Jets To Brazil song – witty, droll, a bit punch-drunk, and eminently hummable. The introduction to Four Cornered Night also served as our introduction to Jets To Brazil, even if it came an album late.
“In The Summer’s When You Really Know”, from Four Cornered Night
If “You’re Having The Time Of My Life” established Jets To Brazil’s central motif of bittersweet emo shaped to classic-pop templates, then the affecting, autumnal ballad, “In The Summer’s When You Really Know” underlined just how wide-ranging and emotionally sophisticated Blake Schwarzenbach’s writing had become. Pairing the punk legend’s knack for evocative detail (“Summer dress, your hair’s wet and gets into our kisses”) with a warm arrangement of piano, strings, and an especially responsive performance from drummer Chris Daly, “In The Summer’s When You Really Know” (perhaps sadly) felt like a daring bit of honesty from the band, who, by this point, were already dealing with the limited imaginations of an audience who simply wanted more Jawbreaker. Which of course means that there are in fact few songs more “punk” than “In The Summer’s When You Really Know,” a gorgeously-appointed six minutes of wistful pop sincerity.
“Perfecting Loneliness”, from Perfecting Loneliness
Borrowing the minor-key shards of “London Calling” and setting them to a cycling post-punk beat, “Perfecting Loneliness” arrives as a surprisingly bitter note in the otherwise sweet acceptance of the album for which its named. Though Schwarznebach rarely (if ever) commented (either in song or in interviews) on the acrimony coming from Jawbreaker fans who doggedly ignored Jets to Brazil, one can’t help but read a certain kind of bilious statement of purpose in lines like “The radio is playing our tune I love it could you turn it down?.” While “Perfecting Loneliness,” like most of the attendant album, is seemingly more concerned with the difficulties of interpersonal connection (“It used to be a hundred a way to put my arms around you / Every one seemed new, natural, and true / Perfecting loneliness till nothings holding us”), it’s hard to ignore the song’s bite, especially considering the salience of such an angular, tense arrangement on an album like Perfecting Loneliness, otherwise defined by dulcet pianos and brushed snares. Yet considering the ways in which Jets To Brazil fearlessly defied expectations and ignored punk-cred rolled eyes, perhaps there’s perverse perfection in the band spiking its final, most lovely album with one last four minute burst of whittled punk.
“You’re The One I Want”, from Perfecting Loneliness
Considering that this entire list could consist of songs culled from Jets To Brazil’s breathtaking final album, Perfecting Loneliness (one of the most underrated of the decade), the task becomes figuring out where exactly the beating heart of the record’s lushly symphonic emo balladry lies. In that sense, the album’s swooning, sweeping second track, “You’re The One I Want,” is absolutely essential. Featuring a top-5 performance from Schwarzenbach, whose voice was never warmer or more in-tune with the charmed sadness of his own narratives, and offering deeply affecting moments in the songs’ changes from husky indie-rock verses to brilliantly ornate, string-haloed choruses (Superchunk might have gotten to the title “Here’s Where The Strings Come In” first, but it best describes the swelling quartet harmonies of “You’re The One I Want”), “You’re The One” is a chamber-pop marvel. To this point more comfortable with the diffusion of irony and opacity, Schwarzenbach is disarmingly direct here: “You’ve grown more beautiful since you took off / What can I do? I’m in love with you, and it won’t stop.” Setting the pleasant half-melancholy that would serve as the dominant mood for Perfecting Loneliness, “You’re The One I Want” finds the entire band at the absolute height of their powers, making cinematic punk romanticism as expansive as a nighttime horizon.