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. A handful of tracks capture the familiar, upbeat folk-punk acoustic style, such as lead single Children Of God, with optimistic piano riffs and aggressive guitar riffs clashing against Bonnette’s depressive lyrics. However, AJJ has not completely disregarded The Knife Man’s heavy electronic punch, as the track Kokopelli Face Tattoo recalls the punk angst, with the static growls from the succession of power chords making head-banging alone your room an almost fathomable idea.
AJJ has also brought along an expanded menagerie of synthesizers and string instruments allowing the band to venture into foreign musical territories. The opening track Temple Grandin serves as a mild notice for listeners unprepared for the newer tricks, easing them into the album by blending the old, upbeat folk-punk sounds with an ’80s synthesizer that looms in the background, softening the accentuated guitar riffs and Bonnette’s shouts. Further down the track list, the disparity between styles on Christmas Island and earlier albums widens. Do, Re, and Me surprises the listener with an entirely calming ambience, supported by the sweetness of the violin melody in the chorus and a calming bass line. AJJ scratch the punk off “folk-punk” on Deathlessness, with the guitars and bittersweet violin bowing providing the perfect soundtrack for gazing upon some Southwestern countryside.
Of course, no AJJ album is complete without outlandish lyrical descriptions, as well as tongue-in-cheek statements that provide us with the reality check we truly need. Getting Naked, Playing With Guns reminds us of a simpler time in our lives as Bonnette describes the nostalgia of playing at the kitschy McDonald’s play-places pre-XBOX days, alongside a sing-a-along melody. Linda Ronstadt, on the other hand, allows the listener to see Bonnette in a brutally honest light. The singer recalls the details of his emotional breakdown upon seeing a video installation of former country star Linda Ronstadt, a self-aware moment reminding us all of our own vulnerability.
While the lyrics have always been one of the main highlights of every AJJ album, the ridiculous level of the lyrics on this one might stretch the tolerance of even the most dedicated fans. On Children Of God, Bonnette screams, “And out of the corner of my eye/coming out fromm the teeth-filled sky/with eyes as red as a dog’s asshole when you see it shitting.” Or in Temple Grandin Too, there’s this proclamation: “The world was born to kill all the Jesuses.” Although one might wonder if lyrics like these, so akin to drug-induced mad-man ravings, contain genuine artistic intention, the sheer crudeness of such images and ideas turns out to be one of the most enjoyable facets of the album. Some listeners might find themselves unable to stomach such concepts, but for those that can, it’s hard not to laugh and smile, as Andrew Jackson Jihad hopes you would.