Andrew Jackson Jihad – Christmas Island
by Tim DiFazio (English), published June 12th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
It’s pretty safe to assume that the days of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty beating the hell out of acoustic instruments have passed. As it turns out though, that may not be a bad thing. On Christmas Island, the new album from former folk-punk duo Andrew Jackson Jihad, the band continues the path they started on 2011′s Knife Man, working with fuzzed-out electric guitars and a wider array of strings than ever before. This change-up has created a sound that is at once more eclectic `and less unique than before. There is an even bigger shift in the lyrical content. Where there used to be a foundation of plain words and goofy references, Andrew Jackson Jihad now employs more subjective wordplay influenced by bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Mountain Goats. Many of the band’s most commonly recurring themes are entirely absent, with no mentions of their lack of money or how many cigarettes they smoke throughout Christmas Islands. Where the meaning behind the rest of their catalog was almost always clear from the first listen, Andrew Jackson Jihad’s points can be a bit more elusive here.
Despite these changes, however, this is still very clearly an Andrew Jackson Jihad record. They haven’t abandoned their divisively clever sense of humor or their ability to write occasionally gut-wrenching lyrics. What Christmas Island brings to the table is a potentially more mature way of delivering these lines. The ever-constant pop culture references are used with more sophistication this time around; “Temple Grandin,” for example, references accomplished people who have overcome great disadvantages and the satisfaction that comes from solving our own problems. It provides a more hopeful angle than Knife Man, with the exception of the excellent “Angel of Death,” possibly the most self-deprecating track that the band has put out. Bonnette compares himself to what he views as the most worthless or even harmful parts of society. “Linda Ronstadt” and “Getting Naked and Playing With Guns,” on the other hand, do an excellent job of straddling the lines between comedy and tragedy.
While the album has flashes of brilliance, it is a bit spotty at times: tracks, such as “Do, Re, and Me” and “Best Friend”do little to grab the listener’s attention. This inconsistency is sometimes evident within the same song. “I Wanna Rock Out in my Dreams”, while having a catchy melody and a fairly unique overall message, includes some lines that can only be described as forced. But, none of this should really be surprising when you think about what band in question here. Andrew Jackson Jihad have never released a universally consistent album, and this album isn’t any exception. Everything from their humor to their musicianship to their social commentary is simply going to be hit-or-miss depending on the listener. And for this writer, there is no question that they are continuing to take a lot of steps in the right direction.
Recommended Tracks: Temple Grandin, Linda Ronstadt, Temple Grandin Too, Angel of Death