Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Pitchfork.com has reviewed Jawbox's For Your Own Special Sweetheart Reissue, giving the record an impressive 9.3 out of 10 and bestowing the album with the "best new reissue" tag...
[pitchfork.com] The eight-year career of Jawbox could be written as a cautionary tale: indie band signs to a big label, makes two great records that eventually fall out of print, and breaks up. But listening to Jawbox's freshly reissued 1994 major-label debut, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, it's difficult to conclude they made the wrong decision by recording this album for Atlantic. The obvious reason is cold, hard cash: Sweetheart might sound unassumingly direct, but it takes a lot of time and money to make a record this precise and balanced. The other reason is more nebulous, but no less relevant: You don't jump ship from a dogmatically anti-major label like Dischord to a behemoth like Atlantic without understanding that the next thing you do had better be really, really good. While a more naïve band might have diluted its sound to seek fame and fortune, Jawbox cashed in the chips on their shoulders and made their most uncompromising and ferocious record.
Sweetheart's return to Dischord reintroduces the album as a win-win prospect: a record with a mid-90s alt-rock budget, but none of that era's corny or diminishing relics. Bob Weston's thoughtful remaster retains the dynamic range of the original while breathing new life into its low end; Zach Barocas' kick drum finally feels like a punch in the chest. The essential B-sides from the Savory EP are included as well. Even the cover art has been revised, the dated sepia toned blow-up doll image of the original replaced by a solidly cast marble figure rendered in high-contrast grayscale.
The new cover is apt; FYOSS is downright sculptural in its attention to form and structure. The brilliance of FYOSS lies not in any one melody, guitar line, or drum fill but rather in the interaction between these elements. Every song is a thoughtfully interrelated system, an organic economy of sound, rhythm, and gesture. At times, once-distant guitar parts come together with such effortless strength that you can visualize guitarists J. Robbins and Bill Barbot bending the necks of their instruments in unison. Ted Nicely's impeccable production lends a subtle sheen to the album's pop sensibility but never dulls its harsh edges, revealing a band that is well-versed in both harmony and discord (no pun intended).
At its best, FYOSS compresses the energy of hardcore into something more nuanced and deliberate. "Savory" is a masterfully constructed study in tension and release, as Robbins' simple vocal melody is made infinitely more potent by layers of dissonant guitar chords, sparse bass, and violent, propulsive drumming. Even the song's angelic chorus seems subtly unresolved and menacing, though Robbins' and Barbot's guitars chime rather than stab. The guitar "solo" consists of little more than occasional muted feedback bursts, instead serving to emphasize the monolithic force of the band's rhythm section in the absence of Robbins' vocals. The J.G. Ballard-inspired "Motorist" narrates a car crash as metallic guitars jut out from a spare, skeletal frame. "Cruel Swing" sounds exactly like you'd think, Barocas absolutely pummeling his kit over a walking bass figure that sounds like it's challenging you to a fight. Album closer "Whitney Walks" contorts the limitations of Robbins' vocal range into a uniquely seething, uneasy kind of melancholy that perfectly prefigures the song's explosive finale.
The highlight of this reissue of Sweetheart, however, may very well be Savory B-side "68". For an odd-time-signature rock song, "68" is disarmingly elegant, to the point where you barely even notice that it's chugging along in 7/4. Here, you can understand why the Dismemberment Plan were quick to cite Jawbox as an influence: The improbable chord changes and impossible rhythmic ideas on FYOSS are rendered as seamless and intuitive as possible. Though the playing here is solid throughout, nothing about the record is flashy or unattainable-- restraint and discipline consistently best self-aware complexity.
While FYOSS itself doesn't sound dated, the notion that plainly recorded guitar, bass, drums, and vocals can add up to something extraordinary sometimes does. The onslaught of radio-friendly "alternative" bands that followed Jawbox has left us understandably wary of well-produced, punk-informed rock music with no obvious quirks or departures. But FYOSS has aged well precisely because it did not pander to the aesthetic fads of its time-- mainstream or underground. Instead, Jawbox honed their sound, maximized the resources at their disposal, and made a record that hides behind no extraneous instruments, sounds, or ideologies.
— Matt LeMay, November 24, 2009
Posted by Dan Goldin at 7:04 PM