In this great Era of Irony, when everything is safely played for the underlying joke, it's refreshing to encounter a literalist. On Four Cornered Night, Jets to Brazil's second release, singer-songwriter Blake Schwarzenbach attempts to swim upstream against the current cultural phenomenon. He boldly puts himself, and his direct music, on display and hopes people won't laugh.
He fails miserably.
From the opening lick of Four Cornered Night to the final note some 58 long, long minutes later, Schwarzenbach moans and groans, then moans and groans some more about his personal pain -- all of which is heaped on top of slow- to mid-tempo Beatlesesque ballads. Earlier in his career, Jawbreaker fans will remember, Schwarzenbach's woes were, at the very least, interesting tales, spun with linguistic flare and innovative, hard-rocking chord progressions. Here, his 'this-is-my-shitty-life' shtick is presented in pathetically explicit, simple terms, as is his performing. Throughout the album, it is as if his talent and creative sensibility have reverted to the level of those of a high school senior.
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Four Cornered Night is so slow and sappy, Schwarzenbach has managed to out-Barry-Manilow Barry Manilow. He even learned how to play the piano, which, against better judgment, he does quite frequently. His skill level on the ivories is just one lesson past "Chopsticks," and the result is a childish dant-dant-dant-dant that finds its way into nearly every song, whether it's needed or not. This ongoing display of self-indulgence indicates that Schwarzenbach (who will perform with Jets to Brazil on September 27 at the Fox Theatre), once an ingenious talent on the rise, has either surrounded himself by yes-men musicians or simply killed his producer.
The final meandering ballad, "All Things Good and Nice," is a painfully slow-moving love letter to...everyone. He starts with his mother ("I love my mother for all the things she's not, but mostly for who she is"), then moves to his father ("For all the things he's thought, but really for the things he did" ) and follows with equally cheeseball props for his brother and sister. At that point, it's a mushy, albeit adorable, song. Then, like a rambling drunkard who just can't let it go, Schwarzenbach adds to the list. He loves his drummer "just to say thanks," his bassist for "representing the Western states" and his guitarist for having "chops from outer space." He even includes an inanimate object: "I love my piano," Schwarzenbach sings in earnest, "I wasn't ever taught."
He is not trying to be funny, which is a real shame.