Arizona band Jimmy Eat World have been around the block musically. Since their grand inception in 1993, the act have gone on to cultivate a sound of their own, and from this, they’ve become true advocates of emotion. And by priding themselves on designing thought-provoking work, their stake in the emo-rock circuit is deeply rooted. Emotional music has taken its blows, it has come under scrutiny as being too ‘sad’ for the modern pop upstarts, but it’s needed, and it still emerges victorious in a scene rapidly changing.
Being a band who acknowledge emotion, who formulate songs tapered around the somber note and tone, Jimmy Eat World are mainstays, and many class them as being the godfathers of the genre. This accreditation comes from the long list of tracks and albums the band have constructed, from their self-titled debut in 1994 to their 2016 release Integrity Blues. None of these records have been labeled as being lackluster, they’re all different and they all channel emotion.
To make it ‘big’ it takes substantial and grueling work. Jimmy Eat World have been around for a long time, but they had to work their way up platforms. Second album Static Prevails did earn the band some credit, but it never broke the glass ceiling, and it never shaped the unit as ‘ones to watch’.
Although Static Prevails did give this young band a boost, it was 2001 when they flew from the musical nest onto the patch where the major players were staking their claims. Bleed American was the record that made Jimmy Eat World captains of emo. The content was refined and defined the band’s sound. From the smack of “A Praise Chorus” to the cathartic “Hear You Me“, the opus granted them immediate access into bigger venues and rooms filled with lovers embrace.
After the brilliance of Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World delivered a more polished sound in 2004’s Futures. Even with the changes, the album did have that punch and emotion we all expect. Lead singer Jim Adkins conveyed through gallant, sober, lyrics, his grievances. Work is a song which gradually exposes the album as a statement of intent. “Kill” is a sadder evaluation. “Drugs Or Me” is an eye-opening assessment of someone cascading into addiction. They’re lost, subdued, hellishly frail, and turning blue. And Futures is Jimmy Eat World’s personal expedition into emotions unnerving core. They bellowed, they struck nerves, but they delivered. And that is all you need from a band that just wanted to rest their heavy heads.
Chase This Light hit the scene in 2007. An album that came to be even more polished, but has become a central element to the band’s catalog. “Big Casino” starts the record off with brazen guitar lines and a massive chorus, taking the listener by the scruff of the neck. Also on this disc, there’s plenty of emotion as songs such as “Chase This Light” and “Dizzy” come to the fore. Chase The Light is a balanced listen, and it surprised many people by its complexity.
Invented drifted in next in 2010. It is a punchy affair, showcasing Adkins’s lyrical dynamism. He’s a true songwriter, taking snippets from his day to day experiences and placing them into a bundle of wonder. Invented didn’t hit ground-breaking proportions, but it is an album of clarity, an opus worthy of being a solid addition. Songs such as “Evidence” and “Coffee And Cigarettes” blended into the fabric well. Those powerful guitar tones and soft vocals intertwined to create an astounding contrast. To be truthful, Invented doesn’t overshadow the records prior to it, but it does display ingenuity. Intelligence is paramount on every release from Jimmy Eat World, and Invented stakes a claim for being their most sophisticated compendium.
Editor’s note: Clarity was the first Jimmy Eat World album I bought, off the strength of the single “Lucky Denver Mint”, which I had heard on the radio. It was the start to a long and everlasting connection with their music. The album celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and to this day, it’s still my favorite.
Back in 2003, we spoke to Mark Trombino, the album’s producer about working with Jimmy Eat World.
The band finished their next addition in 2013. Damage showed that Jimmy Eat World were always stuck to their roots, and its sound is reminiscent of the days of Bleed American and even Futures. Lyrically it is intense, captivating and softer. There’s ballads here, songs of despair. Adkins displays this on tracks including “Lean” and “Book Of Love”. On that particular track, Adkins sings with freedom but also there’s bubbling rage overstepping the mark. He describes a lover who is filled up to the skies with lies, and he craves the truth. It is wonderful songwriting.
Jimmy Eat World’s most recent work is Integrity Blues. The album transports the listener into a world where hatred and good fight. The melody is composed well, and the record as a whole presents itself as a genuine record full of brazen guitar work and insightful songwriting. The act dislodges partially from the acoustic sound and shows us that they can play hard-hitting music. Integrity Blues is a statement of intent from a seasoned band who don’t want to be rubbed away. Songs such as “Sure And Certain” and “Get Right” prosper beyond the rest, and are sure winners. The beat, the melody, the bass lines all meld together smoothly.
All of these records have emotion within their interior. They all naturally bloom but none overshadow. They use the same template, but don’t sound completely alike. And judging by the response, many love the diversity of Jimmy Eat World. But many don’t know the band have been around since the early nineties, the same era as Green Day’s Dookie and Nirvana’s Nevermind, as well as The Offspring’s Smash.
As we look forward, Jimmy Eat World have announced they’re working a new full length. The band recently released a two-song EP Love Never / half heart. These songs exhibit a brash direction and a cathartic one. Both compelling additions to the catalog. It takes guts for bands to be making music 25 years on. Not many bands have lasted this long, not many have delivered consistently good albums, but this unit are different. They’re hard workers and their musicianship should be acclaimed. And being the true advocates of emotion is a suitable title for this forward-thinking act.
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.