Andrew Jackson Jihad’s biting yet often tongue-in-cheek folk punk is back, Jim, but not quite as we know it. Their jangling, wild and sometimes chaotic style coupled with Sean Bonette’s exceptional songwriting talent is much loved by their army of fans, but ‘Christmas Island’ hauls back on the reins, reeling in the crazy a little and producing a more musically restrained yet emotional piece.
After completing a plugged-in tour, the band were about to enter the studio to record an all-electric rock album. Thankfully producer John Congleton (Murder by Death, The Mountain Goats) had other ideas, and they created something far more interesting – a heavy acoustic album full of subtle and delicate moments yet equally capable of raging, cursing and causing controversy.
Take for example the line in ‘Children of God’: “And out of the corner of my eye, coming out the teeth-filled sky with eyes as red as a dog’s asshole when you see it shitting”, sang to an upbeat strumming and a cello in the background. That’s this album all over – tasteless beauty.
‘Coffin Dance’ is fragile and mournful, floating and fearful yet charged with sensitivity and melancholy. You can feel the lump rising in your throat as Bonette gasps, “I’m gonna miss this place – I’m gonna miss his face just like a vein inside my heart”, as he thinks of his grandfather who passed away a month before they recorded ‘Christmas Island’.
‘I Wanna Rock Out In My Dreams’ is going to quickly become a lot of people’s new favourite song. A sweeping keyboard driven moment that sounds like Pink Floyd with attitude, and every bit as touching as that comparison suggests.
‘Kokopelli Face Tattoo’ first made an appearance on last year’s live album, but this version is slightly slower and more attuned to the mood of this release. However, it’s still one of the most upbeat moments on an album from a band who once dubbed themselves “happy music for sad people”.
There’s a real honesty to be found here, a warts-and-all outpouring of all feelings good and bad and everything in-between. ‘Linda Ronstadt’ tells of a visit to a museum after leaving a relationship and breaking down at an exhibit on the 60s pop icon. Bonette pours out his soul in the lyrics, crying out, “like a cut that won’t stop bleeding, Arizona sunsets in the early evening, or a grown man inconsolably weeping.”
Andrew Jackson Jihad have always had the character and the daring streak to make themselves stand out, but ‘Christmas Island’ is a true exhibit of just how far their ability stretches. Our generation doesn’t have a Johnny Cash, but Andrew Jackson Jihad exist, and so until we do have one, that’s good enough for now.
‘Christmas Island’ by Andrew Jackson Jihad is out now on SideOneDummy Records.
Words by Alex Phelan (@listen_to_alex)