Snapped up in the post-Nirvana major-label feeding frenzy of the early '90s, Washington, D.C.'s Jawbox released a couple of rich and brilliant albums of beautifully dissonant guitar rock before being dropped and promptly breaking up like every other hot potato that didn't sell in Nevermind-like numbers. Luckily, Jawbox main man J. Robbins took the transition in stride and began Burning Airlines as the fruitful second stage of his career (third, if you count his tenure as bassist in legendary D.C. punkers Government Issue). Some understandable similarities to Jawbox notwithstanding, Burning Airlines has now been around long enough to establish its own identity and no longer needs to slap the phrase "Ex-Jawbox" on fliers just to draw people to its shows.Burning Airlines' newest album, Identikit (DeSoto Records), is a wonderfully executed exercise in tension, full of minor-key melancholy and Fugazi-ish (or Jawbox-ian) post-punk rocking. Robbins' rich baritone can stretch words and fill them with a gut-wrenching sort of sorrow or bark them out drill-instructor style through teeth clenched in anger, as the songs dictate. As a songwriter, Robbins continues to evolve as well, with lyrics that stand up remarkably well when read, almost like abstract poetry; more important, though, these enigmatic one-liners (e.g., "Without the body there is no crime") cut through the musical chaos when heard.
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