Jawbox - Novelty (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Novelty (1992)


My friend and I were talking about this particular issue just the other day: The Jawbox reunion wasn't nearly long enough. This band was one of the premier post-hardcore acts in its day, up there with peers like Quicksand and Fugazi. Its discography is flawless, and each album offers a different twist on the same rocking formula. In a way, it's funny that Jawbox's final indie release, Novelty, would attract major label attention, since it's also arguably the band's heaviest record, but hey man, it was the go-go '90s. Times were different.

Novelty, like the rest of Jawbox's output, walks a very fine line between punk aggression and rock precision. Jawbox could never be considered grunge, but I could totally see the band appealing to alternative fans thanks to an ear for melody and craftsmanship. Ironically, it was this same dedication to playing well that has kept Jawbox from reuniting. But at least that ethos paid off here.

"Cutoff" opens the record with a dissonant, snarling guitar hook. Once the whole band kicks in, the song emerges as a chugging, threatening affair. It's probably one of the best songs Jawbox ever wrote, although "Static" and "Send Down," also from this very album, come close. Actually, wait, "Chump" is really good too. Anyway, all of these tracks are super heavy, as is most of the album overall.

The record isn't just a constant assault on the senses, however. Novelty ever so slightly dials down its aggression near the middle. "Spiral Fix" slows the tempo a bit, and even adds in a few quiet sections. "Channel 3" has a slightly ethereal vibe in the vocals. Of course, any notion of mellowing out is relative and quickly dispelled by the massively thunderous "Linkwork" anyway.

In an alternate Earth, Jawbox is one of the most influential alt-rock bands of all time. These guys (and gal) could play like hell, but they never lost sight of punk rock's brevity. Novelty is a crushing record, but it never feels too cacophonous. It's technically accomplished, but never masturbatory. It is, simply, a really good record best played at loud volumes.