Today marks International Jawbreaker Appreciation Day – a perfect excuse to celebrate the rise and fall of a band that once wrote a song called ‘Sluttering (May 4th)’. We got Alex Andrews on the case.
“There was a sun once. It lit the whole damn sky…”
It’s difficult to pay tribute to a band that is responsible for so much of what you dislike about music. You could argue that a band has little control over its legacy, but given that the Get Up Kids have since apologised for spawning a generation of whiney sound-alikes peering out from behind straightened fringes, it’s perhaps only fair that Jawbreaker take their share of the blame.
Since calling it a day in 1996, Jawbreaker’s songs have been covered by everybody from Fall Out Boy to Foo Fighters. Before the tour van brawls, the vocal surgery, and the accusations of punk rock treason which led the band to their inevitable implosion, you’ll find plenty of reasons why so many years later, people are still queuing to pay their respects.
In the 10 years in which they existed, Jawbreaker released four albums to accompany a trail of EPs, which many collectors would happily trade their Grandmothers for. Sharing cultural DNA with the early emo movement of their native Washington D.C., the band’s relocation to California saw them equally indebted to their new found peers in the likes of Green Day and Crimpshrine.
Jawbreaker changed considerably over their lifespan. Setting out with a scratchy pop-punk template, they eventually moved towards a slicker and considerably darker brand of power-pop, and though the levels of emotional intensity may not be quite as cranked-up on later recordings, a strong melodic awareness is always present. But it’s the song writing of Blake Schwarzenbach which ties band’s output together more than anything else. Unrivalled amongst his contemporaries, Schwarzenbach’s lyrics were poignant and often deeply personal – full of meticulous observation, rugged romance and booze-sodden misery.
Although the band’s discography is somewhat haphazard, part of their enduring appeal is in the many rough diamonds hidden away on compilations, 7″ splits, and slightly unconvincing albums. Below, you’ll find seven of the band’s finest moments… so crack open a beer or light a Chesterfield, turn up the stereo, and try to forget that Fall Out Boy ever existed.
Towering above the other tracks on the band’s 1990 debut, Unfun, the bass line provides the perfect hook, whilst Blake’s refrain reeks of youthful longing.
A fine example of storytelling and the crowning jewel of Bivouac, the band’s Difficult Second Album™. Probably the best song to ever be penned by Schwarzenbach – or anybody else, for that matter.
The closest the band ever came to writing an “anthem”. It features the immortal line: “You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone”.
One of the band’s trademarks was their use of samples hoarded from films, nature documentaries and even answerphone messages. This snippet from a Jack Kerouac poem, complete with twinkly piano in the background, frames the song perfectly.
Kiss The Bottle
A ragged tale of a down-and-out couple who can’t get their priorities straight. It happened to be the last song the band recorded before Schwarzenbach’s vocal surgery, and has been covered countless times since.
Dear You was Jawbreaker’s Nevermind, and ‘Oyster’ is the band at their most accessible. It’s easy to see how the slick production outraged fans at the time, but it remains a great song nonetheless.