Jawbox, For Your Own Special Sweetheart – Reissue
A fantastically unlikely major-label-debut and a touchstone for emo
Jawbox's major label debut was a totally unnecessary yet counter-intuitively wondrous thing: a Fugazi record about sex and heartbreak. The DC band was the first Dischord act to jump to a major, and they're one of the rare bands that improved in the process. Singer-guitarist J Robbins' sounds at once plaintive and gruff as he sings things like "hey, angel, fly over, and bless me," against hot-angled twin-guitar churn and fulsome punk-jazz rhythm rumble — made even fulsomer by Ted Nicely's depth-perceptive production. "Savory" and "Cooling Card" grazed MTV with a worried heroism that might sucker in a Pearl Jam fan, while "U-Trau" and "Reel" translated post-hardcore grind into elegiac alt-rock. The push-pull music gave Robbins' opaque evocations of romantic tumult a sense of optimism in the face of aneurysm. It'd be a eureka moment for scads of emo bands (it's fitting Robbins became a go-to producer for the genre). Even the one that evokes JG Ballard ("Motorist") has a heart, even the flashes of hate-spiked Gang of Four churn resolve in something vaguely tender, and, most heartening, the word "valentine" has the same emotional valence as the word "product." Fifteen years later, what might've been one more errant attempt at grazing the mainstream fringe sounds like a minor masterpiece.