Blake's baby

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The band set to work fleshing out Schwarzenbach's songs, melancholy tales of love lost that bore little resemblance to the songs he had written with his former band. They were a combination of the melodic sensibility he had honed over the course of four albums with Jawbreaker, and the experimental side he had discovered in himself when he began to create music again. They were more complex, more emotional, and more mature, like pages from a diary written by a man with a Liberty Bell for a heart: permanently broken. Most of them were written before there was even a band to play them, just an eight-track recorder and an empty apartment.

"It was a whole different--well, much more solitary--way of writing," Schwarzenbach says. "I could go so far that way, and get a pretty strong skeleton going. And they did change a lot, just with repeated plays and finessing them. I think I did a lot of rewriting on these, more than I'd ever done in Jawbreaker. Just trying to hammer them out. Another big difference in the writing was that I was using piano on some things. I'm a really lousy pianist, but I love it. It's a totally different approach to melody, though, which is great. I'm really determined to get better."

At the beginning of this year, the budding trio played a few low-key shows around the New York area, just a test to see what it had on its hands. The response was good enough that Wilmington, Delaware-based Jade Tree Records--home to Midwest indie-rock heroes The Promise Ring and Joan of Arc--signed the band and sent them to Europe for a five-week tour, based only on that handful of shows and a five-song demo the band had recorded. Schwarzenbach was overwhelmed.

"It was really unprecedented. I mean, I'd been a few times [with Jawbreaker], but this was really different," he says. "I don't know that any band has ever gone over with [just] a demo tape out, which we owe entirely to The Promise Ring. I really liked [Europe], because it seemed like a totally objective audience. People didn't really know what bands we came from, and I don't think there were any expectations. That was kind of nice."

When Jets to Brazil returned from Europe, Jade Tree sent them into Memphis' Easley Studios with former Jawbox guitarist J. Robbins. The result is Orange Rhyming Dictionary, an astonishing album better than anything released by any of its members' former bands. It's a gorgeous mess of roller-coaster rhythms and heartbreaking vocals, a versatile piece of poptopia that shifts from bright bursts of staccato guitar ("Lemon Yellow Black") to delicate acoustic ballads ("Sweet Avenue") without sacrificing anything. "King Medicine" is a dramatic bit of box-of-Kleenex guitar pop, the downhearted lyrics and furious melody seemingly at odds and perfectly in sync at once. And "I Typed For Miles" is one of the best breakup songs written in the last decade, angry and disappointed and sad and everything else. When Schwarzenbach repeatedly screams, "You keep fucking up my life!" at the end of the song, you almost feel as though you're watching a couple splitting up right in front of you. "Sweet Avenue" is the calm after the storm, following the rage of "I Typed For Miles" with a sentimental tale of newfound love, accompanied by softly strummed guitar and a hushed rhythm section.

Even though Orange Rhyming Dictionary doesn't have much in common with Jawbreaker, Handsome, or Texas is the Reason, Schwarzenbach realizes the members of the band's various backgrounds will lead to expectations. He isn't worried, though. No, he is excited, rejuvenated by his two-year break from the business. He's ready to get back on the road and show off his new band, a band that is only around because three others aren't.

"Well, I hope it doesn't get in the way of people seeing this band as what it is, you know," he says. "I think those bands all broke up for pretty good reasons, so no one that was in them is missing those bands too much. I understand that people really like those bands. I think we're all so psyched on doing something new, and kind of doing things that we felt incapable of doing before.

"It's weird; I don't know. It's going to be interesting on this tour, because I'm sure there are going to be a lot of Texas and Jawbreaker fans that are probably expecting a continuation of those bands, or maybe some of them will, but I don't know that they're going to get that," he laughs, then continues. "I think most of the people who hear the record will agree."

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain