Would you know "emo" if you heard it? I'm not sure I would. The genre spawned by the vaunted Washington, D.C. hardcore scene of the '80s has long ago evolved, splintered to the point where most bands still shackled with the tag spend a good deal of their time denying it.
Back in the '90s, Jets frontman Blake Schwarzenbach sang for emo flagbearers Jawbreaker. But jeez, he sings like Joe Strummer or David Lowery or the guy from The Alarm. Are they all emo? Musically speaking, the Jets' excellent second album often sounds like a mature Green Day--that's meant as a compliment--peppered with piano, cello and acoustic guitar. But rest assured, it rocks all emo-like with strong backbeats, muscular guitars, even the occasional straight-faced AC/DC riff.
And straight-faced is the operative word here. Ultimately, the clues lie in the earnestness both of the performances and of Schwarzenbach's lyrics. The unavoidable theme is struggle--the struggle to express oneself and be understood, the struggle to find meaning. This is the serious business of emo: There's not a trace of irony to be found here.
The sensitive piano ballad "In the Summer's When You Really Know" offers heartfelt lyrics like "Summer dress your hair's wet and gets into our kisses." "Empty Picture Frame" is a sentimental ode to a lost love. Perhaps the closest the band comes to placing tongue in cheek is "All Things Good and Nice," on which Schwarzenbach dedicates a couplet to each of his family members and bandmates: "I love my guitarist, his chops from outer space /He can make my three chords sound like eight."