In the wake of Jawbreaker’s dissolution, singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach formed Jets to Brazil with ex-Handsome frontman Jimmy Chatelin and former Texas Is the Reason drummer Chris Daly shortly after his return to New York from the Bay Area in 1997. Orange Rhyming Dictionary is an extravaganza of power-driven pop and depressing lyrics, animated by J Robbins’ nearly flawless production. The songs, all written by Schwarzenbach, are personal and therapeutic, oscillating between righteous fury and crushing depression in a scorching power chord survey of a bleak and blank world. Cries of “you don’t love me” and “why must you treat me like you do?,” coupled with thoughts of suicide (“Sea Anemone,” “Conrad”) dominate the album, providing thematic momentum while overshadowing ruminations on big brother (“Resistance Is Futile”) and other issues.
The question of punk legitimacy, with which Schwarzenbach’s career had always been tangled, at times torturously, was put to rest with Four Cornered Night. He plays piano on the record, letting guitarist (Bryan Maryansky, ex-van Pelt) pick up the slack as he tickles the ivories. He uses this softer, indie sound to present schmaltzy ditties about love (“In the Summer You Really Know”), acoustic groovers about dope and loneliness (“Empty Picture Frame”) and sappy swingers about loving everything or something (“All Things Good and Nice”). A far cry from punk, it’s not even disturbing enough to be emo.
Nor was it a safe haven. Released amid rumors of a mental breakdown and key departures from the band, Perfecting Loneliness is a mish-mash of indie-rock dust bunnies that sounds like a collection of B-sides and rewrites. “Further North” is another acoustic schmooze-along about being lonely and whatever, while “Cat Heaven,” one of the stronger tracks, is actually about Schwarzenbach’s dead feline. Beyond the vaguely political “Disgrace,” Perfecting Loneliness is dominated by self-destruction (“With all those stones in your coat / Did you think they wouldn’t know?”) and parental love. The album ends with twelve-plus minutes of “Rocket Boy” an epic about “someone” apparently getting a DUI, calling his parents and feeling sorry for himself.