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Album Review

It's not quite a Hall without Oates situation, but there's a significant element missing on Identikit. That would be the departed Bill Barbot, J. Robbins' partner in noise for the prior decade. It was his tight and jumpy McCartney-style bass that helped make Mission: Control! such a spectacular successor to the final Jawbox record. And when Barbot joined the band after their debut LP, he forged an immediate bond with Robbins as second guitarist and vocalist. You could always bank on the two providing riveting dialogue of the instrumental and vocal varieties. The negative sentiment shouldn't come at the expense of replacement Mike Harbin, who packs his own wallop. Robbins is more than a formidable force as the lone lyricist and guitarist, but he's either spread himself too thin or is too cognizant of Barbot's absence. While it's impossible to pick out substandard moments, it's equally challenging to pick highlights. That said, it remains a solid record, despite not being entirely remarkable. Hardly any progression is made from the debut, sounding more like the post-hardcore of latter-day Jawbox than the "XTC on steroids" of the first BA outing. New percussive devices and group harmonies require an attentive ear to catch, doing little to alter the band's sound. The melodicism of the debut gets placed on the back burner here, generally kept to the periphery. Robbins' guitar leads tend to stick to the skillful bash-'em-out nature that he perfected years ago, all but shelving the choppy staccatos used so well on the prior record. Ultimately, the only sore point of Identikit is its stubbornness to cut the cord from oft-traveled territory. The closing tracks — which seem more like bonuses than part of the album — suggest an increasing glut of ideas up their sleeves. Let 'em out!

Customer Reviews

Aggressive, Challenging, Catchy...Prog Punk?

It took me a few listens to really get this record. I was instantly a fan of Mission: Control!, but Identikit is now my favorite of the two. There's more depth in both the lyrics ("The Surgeon's House", "The Deluxe War Baby") and the arrangements (intricate instrumental interplay! plentiful percussive panache!), more urgency in the production aesthetic, and every song feels like a complete statement, whereas the second half of of M:C! seemed to me to get a bit blurry. This band was amazing: J.Robbins plays guitar like no one else (save Andy Patridge perhaps), Mike Harbin's bass is portend of creeping doom, and Peter Moffett is hands down my favorite living rock drummer. Was sad to see these guys split.

<-- This reviewer should have given it another 2 listens...

...maybe more. But the songwriting here is far superior to "Mission: Control"'s. Yeah, Mr. Robbins has tempered his work with more of a pop cut, but nothing is thin here, in instrumentation or writing. This is an incredibly varied body of songs, colored by flourishes culled from a variety of rock styles. Plus a hint of Americana. The lyrics are as intelligent as ever, and tinged with an emotion and personal refelection that I've not seen in Robbins's work before. For the record my opinion may be biased. I saw this set at a bar in Knoxville, played to a crowd of no more than 15 people. And they played.

completely underrated

This album got me through high school. Every song is amazing. The guitar and bass rythms are insane on each track. Listen to The Surgeon's House and A Lexicon and try to not buy it. If I could give it more stars, I would.


Formed: 1997 in Washington DC

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Almost immediately following the April 1997 breakup of Jawbox, J. Robbins (guitars/vocals) began writing and playing with ex-Wool and former Government Issue bandmate Peter Moffett (drums). One day, the bassist couldn't make it to practice, so Robbins convinced the other Jawbox guitarist and vocalist Bill Barbot to slide into the role. By the end of 1998, Burning Airlines (named after a Brian Eno song) had their debut single and a split release with Braid in the bins of mom-and-pop record shops....
Full Bio
Identikit, Burning Airlines
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