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Jets to Brazil

So the Jets to Brazil story goes a little something like this: After spending the better part of the '90s as the frontman for the celebrated San Francisco-based pop-punk outfit Jawbreaker, Blake Schwarzenbach decided he'd had enough of the rock and roll lifestyle and resolved to move to New York and become a writer. But, as luck would have it, on the night of Jawbreaker's last show ever, Schwarzenbach met Jeremy Chatelain, whose own band Handsome was about to hit the skids. The two met up in Brooklyn a few months later and, with former Texas Is the Reason drummer Chris Daly, initiated a new project -- Jets to Brazil -- that incorporated elements of all three members' former bands, while (like all truly great bands) adding up to more than the sum of its parts.

So what does it sound like? Well, there's certainly a generous dose of Jawbreaker's melodic, uptempo, emotional punk here, and of course Schwarzenbach's trademark rasp -- like a cleaned-up, American Shane MacGowan -- and smart, often poetic lyrics here. But Jets to Brazil's sound has more layers; it's darker, moodier, more ambiguous. There is something epic -- and very powerful -- about these long songs full of rumbling, subterranean, slightly ominous bass and squalling, not-quite-clean guitars topped with atmospheric keyboards and occasional strings. The music conjures a sense of vast, slightly alien open spaces. One sometimes feels rather small, buffeted by the elements when listening to these complicated, dynamic sounds -- and often, Schwarzenbach's gloomy, slightly cynical lyrics seem to describe that very feeling.

Jets to Brazil has released two albums thus far: their first, 1998's critically heralded Orange Rhyming Dictionary, was (not surprisingly) produced by Jawbox emeritus J. Robbins at Easley Studios in Memphis. "Starry Configurations," from Orange Rhyming Dictionary, is quintessential Jets to Brazil: powerful and anguished, the song tells a story about human frailty, sketching out the feeling of being dwarfed by the enormity of the universe in thick, expansive sonic brushstrokes.

For their second full-length, 2000's Four Cornered Night (again produced by J. Robbins), Jets to Brazil has gotten more power-pop than ever before, adding a second guitarist (Brian Maryansky), some epic piano parts, and even...cello. The featured track from that song, "Your X-Rays Have Just Come Back from the Lab and We Think We Know What Your Problem Is," is a vintage piece of Schwarzenbach songcraft, marked by muscular guitar chug and a tuneful scratchy-voiced melody.