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Dusting ‘Em Off: Jawbreaker – Bivouac

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As a self-professed appreciator of alternative rock, it amazes me that so few of you have heard of the band Jawbreaker. Since lead-singer Blake Schwarzenbach decided to break up the San Francisco based outfit in 1996 (and going on to front the just-as-stellar Jets to Brazil), their gaudily sonic catalogue has gone all but overlooked. But for eight great years, they delivered a taut, unique blend of nakedly honest lyrical confessions, mixed with a subtly fuzzed-out distortion that successful bludgeons so many like-minded, sack-sad teenagers down further into their gleeful pursuit of jaded cynicism.

What makes great bands unforgettable are their masterpiece offerings. Enter Bivouac, Jawbreaker’s second, and greatest release. When stoically charged front men like Schwarzenbach forge ahead with the sole intent to relentlessly badger their audience with songs fueled with a driving will to force listeners to submit their full attention, all need for a “hit single” falls to the wayside. What you’re left with is a near-perfect collection of tunes seamlessly merging to conceive a transcendent encapsulation of how meaning can be found with rock music.

Unfortunately, it’s not 1991 anymore. Kids no longer pledge undying allegiance to full-length albums. Steve Jobs has made it so they can create their own compilations. This allows them to sensationalize the thought that a jumbled group of songs can merge together to deliver one blank slate of relevance. They customize their angst by selecting any particular slew of artists they want to remind them why they’re confused, enraged, or heartbroken.

Jawbreaker made records that meant something to them, not their fans’ dwindling attention span.

Yes, Bivouac was an easy record to miss upon its release, unless you lived in a certain sector of greatest San Francisco during the time period. Seattle had its flannel-laden Cobain-enthusiasts, but the Bay Area had its emo-pre-dating sad bastards and the one band that brought them together to collectively channel (rather than “flannel”) their aimless plight to grab onto something that sounded meaningful. Throughout “Chesterfield King’s” surging introspection, it feels like you’re riding shotgun next to a young romantic on his night of empty-handed victory. The trouble Schwarzenbach has in his feverish-cum-stoned delivery is his inability to make sadness sound, well, sad.

“Donatello” pushes you of the stage, and into the mosh pit as it tries to save your adolescent-minded life. This is a band that bridges the gap between the blind rage of punk, self-conscious rebellion of grunge, and the blank-stares of power-pop with all the right intricacies.

Chicago’s very own Alkaline Trio should take a few cues from Jawbreaker if they ever want to accept their failure to find mainstream success. Yes, it’s easy to find frustration in failed attempts at grabbing the attention of a disenfranchised nation’s youth. Contrary to certain-held beliefs, it’s hard from the end of the world. Jawbreaker’s best album calls to mind a time when playing underground clubs felt intimate and otherworldly, and the only way to do this is to put out records that completely engulf its listeners without blaring over mall-sound-systems on Saturday afternoons.

If you haven’t heard this record, you can find it at a resale record shop for next to nothing. Otherwise, Steve Jobs’ company will ask $9.99. If you only have a dollar, blow it on “Chesterfield King”, then skate down to Reckless Records on North Milwaukee (in Chicago), and thumb a $5 bill for the entire masterpiece. You can find it used, probably returned by somebody looking for Staind, or Creed’s latest groundbreaker.

This record will break your jaw.

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