Jawbreaker: You're Not Punk, and I'm Telling Everyone
Every now and then, you stumble across a band that speaks to you at just the right time, and they end up becoming one of your all-time favorites. This group seems to understand what you're going through better than any of your peers, and acts as a gateway drug to all of its influences and similar bands. I'm willing to bet that everyone had "the band that changed everything" at one time or another, and for me, it was Jawbreaker.
Jawbreaker is a bit of an acquired taste. The band is one of the forerunners of emo, and not in the guyliner and sideswept-bangs sense. Blake Schwarzenbach's raspy voice isn't for everyone, but Jawbreaker evolved from album to album, so there's something for both emo purists and pop-punk fans to enjoy.
How I got into Jawbreaker isn't that uncommon a story, it still happens when diehard fans of bands like Fall Out Boy dig into a band's roots. I was really into The Ataris at the time and didn't realize that "Boxcar" was a cover. I had no luck finding Jawbreaker songs to listen to online, so I went to a record store in hopes of finding 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, to give it a shot. Bivouac was all they had in stock, so I shrugged and picked it up, expecting it to be some sort of pop-punk masterpiece.
Boy, was I wrong. I could not stand the album when I first heard it, though in my defense, I was just starting high school and didn't know better. Jawbreaker was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Blake had a rough voice and the album was super-dense. Bivouac is one of the hardest albums to get into, but it's great in the context of Jawbreaker. Songs like "Chesterfield King" and "Pack It Up" appealed to my pop-punk sensibilities, but after a few listens, I learned to appreciate Blake's tortured genius through poetic and revealing lyrics in songs like "Donatello."
As Bivouac started to grow on me, I eventually lucked out and found 24 Hour Revenge Therapy . This album grabbed me right away, I knew what to expect from Blake, and I finally found "Boxcar," which is funny, because now it's one of my least favorite songs on the album. It isn't a bad song. It motivated me to check out Jack Kerouac, and the lyrics are pretty funny. "Boxcar" and "Indictment" give some commentary on the mid-'90s Bay Area music scene, while "Jinx Removing" is a great love song. This album is a series of lows and highs, though the highs are sporadic. The recurring themes are heartache and phenomenal songwriting, with the gritty angst of "Ashtray Monument", the longing of "Do You Still Hate Me?," and the morose vibe of "In Sadding Around" standing out from a devastating breakup.
24 Hour Revenge Thearapy is where Jawbreaker was arguably at its best. The album itself is therapeutic, listening to it is like taking a peak of Blake's diary when he's not looking, and getting the feeling that he "gets" you. His vivid songwriting grabs the listener in "Condition Oakland," as if we're sitting there on the roof listening to gunshots and trains while discussing Lonesome Traveler.