Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Side One Dummy
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
This folk punk four piece from Pheonix, Arizona are, to my mind, responsible for some of the most hilarious, terrifying and intellectually subversive music to come out of independent Americana in the last decade. They tour tirelessly for a dedicated fan base akin to that The Smiths received in their early days but have never quite gained a commercial presence to match their critical adoration. Andrew Jackson Jihad are a true one off, a combination of cerebral wit, raw punk energy and poetic delivery dressed up as four gawky looking dudes with guitars and a broad sense of the world's injustices.
Though Andrew Jackson Jihad are an incredibly prolific group, their latest, Christmas Island, marks the band’s first studio release since 2011’s Knife Man. That uncharacteristic three-year gap, which included just a live album and a couple of brief compilation appearances, was partly due to a creative drought from frontman and chief songwriter Sean Bonnette. Experiencing “a battle of self-doubt that [he] eventually won,” Bonnette got out of that funk with help from producer John Congleton (St.
“I wish I had more money than I had/I know that isn’t punk, but I’d like to pay my rent. ” When Andrew Jackson Jihad’s singer/guitarist Sean Bonnette said this on their EP, Only God Can Judge Me, the band was still little more than a scrappy folk-punk duo (Bonnette and upright bassist Ben Gallaty) bashing out 2-minute hyper-sincere, hyper sarcastic ditties solely on wooded instruments. The Phoenix-based duo’s shows would largely be held standing outside their trusty van, they’d address themes of murder and self-deprecation in their songs with the same playfulness as a song about kitty cats, and most of their early tracks utilized the same four chords in different order.
If you know Andrew Jackson Jihad, you’ll be unsurprised by the scuffed edge and shiny-eyed wild streak that runs through Christmas Island. But the band’s version of buzzing, barbed folk-pop gets a slight bit more polish here, and in turn the dose becomes more potent. Songs like “Temple Grandin” and “Kokopelli Face Tattoo” are equal parts desperation and zeal, sung by people who seem beset on all sides by pitfalls and deception.
Since their humble origin as a teenage duo in 2005, Phoenix-based lo-fi folk-punk act Andrew Jackson Jihad have released a literal assault of albums, EPs, singles, and compilation tracks, gaining them a loyal underground following as they've toured their way across the U.S. and Europe numerous times. Led by the hyperactive and lyrically imaginative Sean Bonnette, AJJ play an often spazzy and obscurist take on the kind of wordy, urgently delivered indie folk introduced by John Darnielle's project the Mountain Goats in the 1990s.
Christmas Island is full of gruesome metaphors, and to it, I offer my own: it’s like a band-aid peeling the fuck off. The jokes, which were once Andrew Jackson Jihad’s finest coping mechanism, now go out hunting, and seek to hurt. The songs—with their major key, their bright and triumphantly metal-as-fuck vibe—make you feel like shit. And any time you laugh, which is at least one time a song, you’re left ruminating on how the joke got set up, and what it says about you that you found it funny.
For the past ten years, Andrew Jackson Jihad has provided listeners with their eccentric folk-punk style full of scratchy, acoustic guitar riffs as the background for surreal and satirical lyrics that make you wonder if any musician could be more jaded than frontman Sean Bonnette. Although it seemed that the bizarre musical tendencies of this Phoenix, AZ, group had reached a plateau, the band brings a whole new layer of lyrical depth to the table on Christmas Island, as well varying musical styles that stretch far beyond their set style. Although AJJ’s past two albums, The Knife Man and Can’t Maintain, featured a heavy implementation of electric sounds that veered towards an indie punk direction, this time AJJ returns to a predominantly acoustic sound.