Review Summary: Chapter III: I can show you something you will not believe
Part three of a series of reviews dedicated to the band Jawbreaker in reverse order of the LPs, being the order that I listened to them in.
Coming after the hardcore stylized pop-punk of Unfun, Bivouac doesn’t get much attention in the Jawbreaker discography, and not to discredit the record, but it’s hard not to see why that is. Unfun is the breakout debut record, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy the cult classic up on a shrine, and Dear You the b-grade sequel hidden under the bed. Everything seems to fit together perfectly in the typical punk rock band cycle. Bivouac is, as many sophomore albums are, overshadowed by it’s lack of having a proper place to fit into in the discography. I mean, what the hell are we supposed to make of a ten minute long jam session, the heavy as hell guitar and bass, or the many songs that have the vocals coated in a distorted and almost robotic vocal effect? Truly, Bivouac’s refusal to conform to the stereotypes of what punk was expected to do is what makes it’s charming and yellowing smile all so brighter.
“Shield Your Eyes” does everything to prove that this is not another Unfun. Unlike every other opening song to a Jawbreaker record, “Shield Your Eyes” doesn’t immediately kick you in the teeth with a funky bassline or a fast-paced riff. There’s a subtly piercing line of noise, and once the drums kick in, the song truly begins and you feel the difference. The song isn’t too fast, yet it also isn’t too simple. The drums spend every chance they get filling in the space with impressive fills, and the bass walks up and down key changes only for the most intent listener. The next track kicks off and you get the same feeling. Something isn’t the same. The track is a lot faster, but the tempo shifts and the riffs are constantly shifting to fit the mood of the song. It’s almost as if Jawbreaker is going freaking prog.
“Chesterfield King” is a staple of Jawbreaker’s discography, and not to say it isn’t a great song, but it really sticks out from the rest of the album because of all the reasons that make it a Jawbreaker classic. Simple riff that’s been ripped off by every band in the 2000’s? Check. Solo containing entirely octaves? Check. Heartfelt, wryly optimistic, and unbelievably relatable lyrics? Check. It’s a perfect song, by all standards, and anyone who listens to it can surely apply their own personal love stories to it. But(!), Bivouac as a whole refuses to be holed into any standards but it’s own. Songs like “Face Down”, “P.S. New York Is Burning”, and “Parabola” experiment with the songwriting, taking it into heavier, less melodic, and darker directions. The poppier songs also refuse to stand by any rules. “You Don’t Know” has a catchy and simple guitar solo at the end, but it abruptly cuts off right in the middle of it. Because *** you and your expectations, this is punk rock.
The lyricism as always is on point. A lot of the songs deviate from the typical love story/romanticism that many people expect from Jawbreaker. Songs like “Tour Song” are about, well, touring and a big middle finger to the rock and roll lifestyle that Jawbreaker abhors. Bookend tracks “Shield Your Eyes” and “Bivouac” are true highlights lyrically, going not only in a different direction from the classic poetry of Jawbreaker but truly going beyond it. The romance is there, but the life is more importantly. These songs strike the listener’s ear not because of the moaning about loneliness, but the moaning of life. It’s so vulnerable that it’s the gutsiest thing you’ll hear in quite awhile.
There was a sun once.
It lit the whole damn sky.
It kept everything alive.
And there was a man once.
He looked it straight in the eye.
He saw everything.
He went blind.
The truth burns bright.
Bivouac truly is Jawbreaker’s most pretentious album, but the thing about pretentiousness is that it’s only charming when it’s genuine. Listening to this album is not necessarily “easy” (as if listening to music is a challenge at all), but it truly is a shining star in a sea of copycat and dull rock bands. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is a classic in it’s own right, but there will never be another album like Bivouac, and there never will be another band like Jawbreaker. No matter how hard they try.