haha and then what ; ), Jawbreaker Reunion’s latest full-length, out via Miscreant Records, is a relationship album to its core. Where the band’s first record, Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, was bright and melodic, bringing humor and honesty to bear on a range of sometimes heavy subjects like social anxiety, sexual harassment, and the Friends theme song, the new LP hones in on the messy, liminal spaces between love and sex: insecurities, aching crushes, and incompatible expectations.
Vocalist/bassist Bella Mazzetti, vocalist/guitarist Lily Mastrodimos and drummer/backing vocalist Andrea “Dre” Szegedy-Maszak formed JBR at Bard College and named it based on a Twitter suggestion, but not, they insist, to troll fans of 90s emo. Speaking about the newest release, now-graduates Mazzetti and Mastrodimos described the music as distinctly “post-grad.” Aside from a nice play on “college rock,” which the band’s music certainly is, it’s an apt signifier for this latest set of songs, and a sardonic answer to the question the album title asks.
Not only are the lyrics more focused and emotionally resonant, but also the band’s sound is more sophisticated. Jawbreaker Reunion’s first album offered a mostly clean, trebly twee sound that put them in league with groups like Quarterbacks and Diet Cig, but haha and then what ; ) finds the band utilizing more distortion, reverb, and complex vocal arrangements, perhaps taking cues from Miscreant label-mates like PWR BTTM (with whom JBR released a split) or Bethlehem Steel.
The first two tracks set the tone for the rest of the album by taking differing perspectives on a similar topic. Post-punky album opener “Small Investments” is a reflection on a relationship that failed because one person gave more of themselves than the other was willing to give. Mazzetti laments:
I was wrong,
To think that you could love me more than a song,
I was wrong…
And the root of the problem:
When you left, you said,
There is such a thing as a small investment
“Bare Minimum,” a driving punkish tune, follows taking the opposite tack. It’s sung from the perspective of someone who only needed the titular amount out of a relationship, but let things go too far. Mastrodimos describes:
It took too long to realize you were never enough,
And all I needed was a body in my bed,
Let you move into my life and exist there instead,
But all I wanted was the bare minimum
These tracks work as a pair, offering a more complete and complex emotional portrait than either could on its own. The first is uncompromisingly honest about the pain of being led on, while the second astutely describes how easy it is to let a fun situation turn into something more than one intended or even really wanted. Side by side, the two songs offer no easy answers or easy targets – except maybe bad communication skills – and challenge the listener to work through the ambiguity of relating to both sides.
Listen: “Small Investments” – Jawbreaker Reunion
“Cosmos” was the second song the band teased, and it’s the best song on the album. Falling dead-center in the track listing, the tune is a poignant take on what at first seems like an old theme: unrequited love. Mastrodimos and Mazzetti trade off vocals like:
I am as unsure as you,
I wish I knew just what to do,
After some time it seems to be
I’m a satellite and you’re the world to me
I saw the night sky deep and blue,
I breathed the air sweet as perfume,
Though I’m still revolving,
I’m a satellite and you’re the world to me
But it’s not quite love as much as infatuation, and not so much unrequited as unbegun. A sad, reverb-y guitar line slinks underneath, emphasizing the loneliness of being in someone’s orbit but not knowing how to get any closer. As the bass and drums come in, the song begins to build tension before finally exploding into a cacophonous choral outro. It’s this expertly cultivated play with dynamics and noise that suits the band well and speaks to the group’s ever sharper songwriting skills.
Listen: “Cosmos” – Jawbreaker Reunion
JBR follows the same impulse to experiment with its sound on other tracks, be it the fuzzy pulse of “Lakeland,” and especially the sludgy, super-heavy descending riff in “Your X” that is unlike anything else the outfit has tried. The ladies also challenge themselves lyrically on songs like “Apple” and “Scare You Off,” the latter particularly standing out as a melancholic whirlpool of self-doubt.
Importantly, just because the band is exploring some new territory doesn’t mean that it has lost touch with the snappy, lo-fi charm that drew so many fans in the first place. A song like “High Beams” is a fun Go-Betweens-ish tune about the joy of cruising down the highway with friends. The song “Patches” – released last summer on the second The Le Sigh zine compilation featuring many of JBR’s female-led indie peers like All Dogs, Free Cake for Every Creature, and Adult Mom – appears here as well and is particularly punchy, with a classic JBR kiss-off –“the nausea in my stomach is more feeling than you ever, ever gave”– at the end.
Listen: “Patches” – Jawbreaker Reunion
haha and then what ; ) was originally going to be an EP, but in the writing and recording process it became an LP, albeit a quick one at just nine songs. Far from a dreaded sophomore slump, the whole collection is a fun and engaging listen all the way through and is a step forward for Jawbreaker Reunion. The record has a precision and cohesion to it that in no small part stems from the honed lyrical themes and commitment to broadening the band’s sonics. With enough of the spark that initially won over fans and a new level of refinement sure to win new ones, Jawbreaker Reunion’s second album is worth your while.