April 22, 2022

Jawbreaker - Bivouac (1992)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Punk Rock
Label Number: comm 38-2;tup 38-2;RTD 301.0038.2 41

© 1992 Communion Label/Tupelo/Rough Trade Records 
As the principal wordsmith for JawbreakerBlake Schwarzenbach was one of the first songwriters in the punk scene to embrace literary lyrics more personal and challenging than the often vague or pseudo-political proclamations of the early emo scene and far more intricate than almost all of the band's West Coast pop-punk contemporaries. In their short lifespan, Jawbreaker would arc from their scrappy melodic punk beginnings (Unfun, 1990) to a polarizing major-label swan song (Dear You, 1995) with everything in between, from high-tension band breakups to extended hospital stays, vicious criticism from former allies in the punk scene, and the creation of a subtle masterpiece in 1994's Steve Albini-recorded 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Somewhere in the center lies BivouacJawbreaker's second album and easily their stormiest, gruffest material. The album came after a brief breakup brought on by a devastatingly rocky summer tour, expressed to the hilt in the horrifying lyrics of "Tour Song," with its coda of "Every little thing must go wrong." With a little time, they reunited and relocated from New York to the Bay Area, taking a good amount of city grit with them and applying it to a foundation of sophisticated guitar-based pop songs. While Jawbreaker's heart was composed of Schwarzenbach's poetic storytelling and a sense of romance so immediate it touched the music as much as the lyrics, Bivouac is more marked with musical struggle than any other of the band's albums. Aggressive songs like "Face Down" and "Like a Secret" lean more on dissonance and buried vocals than the group's usual melodicism. Bearing in mind that the landscape of independent punk in 1992 was overshadowed by a booming grunge scene, it makes sense that Jawbreaker's toughest songs on Bivouac have hints of HelmetGish-era Smashing Pumpkins, and other acts of the day that were in the process of blowing up. Interspersing classic young-love pop songs like the timelessly sweet "Chesterfield King" and the optimistic "Shield Your Eyes" with more angsty material gives Bivouac a searching quality, clearly made by artists grasping for identity or clarity in changing times. The ten-minute title track finds the coagulation of all the shifting elements of the album, dialing in the swirling basslines and big grunge choruses with beat poet-inspired lyrics aiming to reconcile Holden Caulfield-esque displacement and alienation from immediate family. As the song churns on it sets the scene for what would come next in the band's discography, a more digestible and confident progression in lyrical and musical development. However, the journey to that development is a rocky one, and the unhinged urgency of Bivouac is an enormous moment, and one necessary to go through in order to take Jawbreaker from their naive punk beginnings to the one-of-a-kind band they grew to be before their star burned out abruptly.

tags: jawbreaker, bivouac, 1992, flac,


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