This is still one of my favorite album covers of all time. Probably because I love orange. And this incredibly simple logo. It almost feels a bit representative of the music Burning Airlines makes as well. Which you’d think, based on the name, would be some vomit-spitting hardcore band. But, no, this is the evolutionary softening of the J. Robbins canon. I don’t know his first band, Government Issue, but assume it’s harder than this. Then there’s his second, Jawbox — for which this is pretty much a sequel — and its kind of grungey heaviness.
Then we hit Burning Airlines’ debut, Mission: Control, and its much more post-hardcore DC sound mixed with some pretty darned good pop hooks. Angular but also clean and dynamic. Dynamic! That’s what it is I love about this record. It’s not just driving drums and staccato guitar strikes. It has some bop to it. Lots of fun high hat stuff. A quality that’s hard to describe in anything but a 1999 context. Because this isn’t music that really exists anymore. This earnest, but not overly so, rock and roll music that is both interesting and well produced. Like really well produced. Which shouldn’t be a surprise when you have a producer in J. Robbins in your band.
Despite all this, I definitely felt like I was the only person listening to this album in 1999. And certainly the only person still listening to it in 2023. Not because it’s a classic per se. But because it leaves me with such a great feeling every time. The musicians are excellent. The drumming is especially fun and varied. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it math rock-y, but this definitely ain’t your typical 4/4 snooze fest. And Robbins’ voice is soothing. He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t do any verbal gymnastics or anything. He just kind of sings with the right amount of snottiness and attitude, but without being annoying or showy.
Do I have any clue what the songs are about? I do not. But, honestly that doesn’t matter. And while I enjoy the first half of the record better than the trailing half, this thing has a unique sound and feels like a great marker in pre-millennial time right before most everything became wallpaper.