- Entertainment and Media»
"Christmas Island", the deranged new album from Arizona's own Andrew Jackson Jihad
History of the album
In the three years after 2011's release Knife Man, Andrew Jackson Jihad toured extensively, among acts such as Frank Turner, ROAR (from which two members came to join Andrew Jackson Jihad for this album. I hope Dylan Cook doesn't get jealous), Cheap Girls, and folk-punk veterans Against Me! Yet, the band was stuck in a musical rut during this time, and according to wailing frontman Sean Bonnette, "...everything I was writing was the same kind of boring-ass rock-structure songs." (CITE) However, when the band came out of this rut, they truly revitalized their sound, opting for more synthesized music rather than the rawness of previous albums.
It was sure a wait for this new album, but is was worth it... right?
Possibly. For a record coming from a band with a newly synthesized style, this isn't as atrocious as the many other records which shocked me out of liking the artists (specifically the most recent Fun. and Fall Out Boy albums). It retains all of the purposeful grossness of early albums, and includes the self-deprecation that defined their previous two albums. Yet, for a seasoned fan who still enjoys their home recordings, it's a complete shocker.
In order to fully analyze the pros and cons of this new album, I'm going to analyze each song in it. First up is "Temple Grandin", which begins with the iconic words which define the rest of the song: "Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out."
Woah. This song isn't messing around. These first words are a far cry from the witty words which began the previous album ("The Michael Jordan of drunk driving played his final game tonight"). Yet, they have their own punch to them, and leave the listener wondering what Sean is talking about.
The first verse seems to depict an angry person who wants to tell the world what they think but can't, and instead does something rash ("In the days before the damage no one knew if we were happy"). Comparisons to songs like "Jeremy" or "Pumped Up Kicks" could be inferred from this first verse, but the song isn't over, so one shouldn't jump to conclusions.
The chorus seems cryptic, but this is only because it's hard to tell whether Sean is singing "Stevie Wonder did the bullsh*t" or "Stevie Wonder to the bullsh*t". Yet, according to Robin Smith of PopMatters, "...it just basically means to blind yourself to the haters, to any of the stuff in the world that upsets you. To just refuse to see it." This meaning is the one that makes the most sense, so I trust this interpretation.
The second verse is something so complex that it's better not to talk about it, and the second chorus repeats the main theme of the song, replacing Stevie Wonder with Hellen Keller, and then Temple Grandin.
The song ends with an almost Jeff Rosenstock-esque chord progression with the lyrics "find a nicer way to kill it", which fits with the rest of the song's message of 'haters gonna hate'.
Overall, the song is nice, and although kind of annoying on the outside, has a deeper meaning. The pairing of the synthesizers with an organic piano and acoustic guitar is nice, two.
This song gets 4/5 stars for its pleasantness, but I'd hesitate to increase that rating because it doesn't offer much as an Andrew Jackson Jihad song. (But +1 for the screaming in the end. It adds a nice touch to the 'find a nicer way to kill it')
Children of God
Next on the chopping block is their first single from the album, and the first song from the album not on their live album for people to listen to.
The song begins with several lyrics about newborn children, scary imagery, and the 'I am's' which are a recurring theme in the album. It then goes to the blood- and cannibal-riddled chorus, which if I'm being truthful isn't that bad. The next verse has even more bloody imagery, which isn't that normal in an Andrew Jackson Song; often it's literal with lots of hyperbole. Then it goes to the bridge, blah blah, Little Engine That Could reference coming full circle with "I think I can!", blah blah, blah.
It's not that this isn't a good song. In fact, I prefer it to "Temple Grandin". But this isn't because of the lyrics (not that I don't like some good hyperbolic symbolism, or that I don't like the blood references). "Temple Grandin" has a deeper meaning than what it seems to be, and this just isn't true in "Children of God". Yet, the music in Children of God is more of a romp than the previous song, even though they both seem to aim for that fast-paced acoustic-electric piano jam type of song.
Although I personally prefer this to "Temple Grandin", it deserves a solid 4/5 stars for being more entertaining but less meaningful than the previous song.
Do, Re, and Me
This is something I want to stress in this song review: the beginning starts AMAZINGLY. The instrumentation is just right, with the guitar and the keyboard highlighting the undercurrent which is Ben Gallaty's bass. The song continues this perfect way, and even as Sean sings "I walked into a room", this song has hope. Then, when he tells the listener that the room is full of corpses, the song collapses under his words. The lyrics in this song are even more meaningless than the ones in "Children of God", and that's saying something. What's worse is that there's nothing interesting about the randomness in this song. A couple weird imageries here, a few do re mi's there, and boom the lyrics are done.
If the instruments played weren't played as perfect as they are, this would get a very low rating, but since they're so good, it gets 2.5/5 stars.
This song surprised me the second time I listened to it. I was initially offput by the incomprehensible second verse, but the chorus of this song makes it all worth it. The positive, armchair-philosophical lyrics of the band make a return in this part, where Sean sings "Everyone has a future, everyone has a soul, everyone has a heart, they have a mind, they have control." This song, which is about Sean's dead grandfather, is superbly touching, and the instrumentation is just right, complimenting the singing in a way that hasn't been done in this album so far.
4.5/5 stars, "Coffin Dance", you earned it.
Getting Naked, Playing with Guns
This song begins, and you think "Yeah, this is my song." The guitar is fricken sweet, and brings back memories of the previous album's chord progressions. The lyrics are the epitome of this album, at least the first half. They continually contrast each other, providing gory imagery and ideas about who people really are. Although you don't notice it at first, these lyrics provide background for what is to come.
The second part of the lyrics is undoubtedly "Little Brother"-esque (if you've never heard the infamous crack cocaine song, I've added it under this). It tells of two children losing their father and then going to the future and killing a neighbor. It's not the first time an Andrew Jackson Jihad song has been like this, but even I was surprised by the lyric, and the shock factor adds to the points that this song gathers.
As the song goes to the bridge, a synthesizer plays a riff that sounds pretty similar to the one in The Cars' "Just What I Needed", sans the last note. This bridge brings the listener to the last continuation of the saga of killing the neighbor boy, in which they 'blow the little d*ckhead up to smithereens'. Although I find violence against children disturbing, the shock factor delivers.
After listening to it fully, the meaning might have something to do with how not parenting children enough and leaving them alone with rifles is a bad idea, and therefore the shock factor can be interpreted as multi-faceted. Yet, my inner English teacher might just be coming out. It's best not to read too deeply into it.
For the shock factor, the possible deeper meaning, and that b*itchin' guitar beginning, this song gets 3/5 stars.
I Wanna Rock Out in my Dreams
"I Wanna Rock Out in my Dreams" is the total amalgamation of all the reasons that dreams are much better than reality. This song is a change from the previous songs, since it seems to take a more personal turn, and is a confession rather than a fast and rad song. It's safe to say that this is one of the really good songs in the album, and it's made perfect by its minimalism, with only a keyboard, Ben's beautiful long strokes on his upright bass, some drums, and Sean's voice. This is the type of song that stands out beautifully from the other songs on the album, and although I'd love to talk about how great it is for more time, it's not the type of song where one needs to look deep to find the deepness of it. Instead of giving listeners an iceberg, Sean gives them the whole fricken' ocean.
4.5/5 stars, easily.
Kokopelli Face Tattoo
This song (which I already liked via Andrew Jackson's live album Live at the Crescent Ballroom) begins like a pop-punk song. It is too low of an octave to be pop-punk, yet the riff suggests this. The lyrics aren't much to analyze, though the 'somebody's gotta do it' part is somewhat enlightening if you haven't already realized that you gotta do what you gotta do. The instruments are good for the song, but nothing exciting.
4/5 stars, good song, but not much to think about.
("Hating you won't make you suck any less" is exactly the sentiment I feel towards some of these songs.)
This song is obviously an ode to someone's dead friend, there's not much else to it, so I'll go into a possible connection with this song and Ramshackle Glory's debut album, Live the Dream. In that album, there are many references to Patrick Schneeweis' friend who committed suicide, and themes of ghosts can be found in "First Song" and "Never Coming Home (Song for the Guilty)". Just saying, that was one of the first things I thought of when hearing this song, and others in the folk-punk (fandom?) will probably agree.
I like the throbbing keyboard coupled with the acoustic guitar in this song, and it seems deep, though sadly not memorable. 3/5 stars.
This song is going to be the first 5-star song in this review, I know it.
The song begins with some humming keyboards over the buzz of a bass and the crisp, slow-ish acoustic guitar. Even in the beginning, it's beautiful. Then Sean begins to sing.
"Today I lost my sh*t in a museum
It was a video installation of Linda Ronstadt
And I really miss my friends, but I don’t see you.
All I see is this video of Linda Ronstadt"
This is great imagery. It's strange, since the album is full of copious imagery, that this imagery is so powerful, but it's so different from the rest, it's so sincere, that when you listen you can actually see Sean standing in front of a video installation in an art gallery somewhere bawling his eyes out at a beautiful piece of art.
"Today the salt and sun ran down my face
After a year of hiding all my feelings
And I totally lost my sh*t in that museum
All from a video installation of Linda Ronstadt"
This really gives meaning to the previous lyrics. It shows the reasons why Sean lost his sh*t at the museum.
The chorus is a thank-you letter to Linda, and it's completely personal, not just thanking some random artist. It seems like it's an actual thank-you aimed at the artist.
"And I can’t handle astounding works of beauty
I think I like my pretty pretty ugly
But the beautiful soul I witnessed in that movie
Was an entirely different kind of overwhelming"
These lyrics are by far some of the best on the album, and coupled with the great instrumentals on this track, it's safe to say that this get 5/5 stars.
Ah. "Deathlessness". It begins as kind of a mix between a bluesy cowboy song and the singing in Neutral Milk Hotel's "Oh Comely". The musicianship in this song is great, and that's a big plus for this song which I previously thought was iffy.
"What kind of mercy exists in deathlessness? And how do we breathe in our breathlessness?" Although it's once again reading too deep into the lyrics, this seems like a lyric which talks about the unfairness of not dying when one wants to die (possibly relating to Sean's grandfather, who died of cancer recently).
This wild ride of a song is entertaining and at the same time beautiful, with the last lyrics being deep, unlike a few songs in this record.
I like it, and you will too. 5/5 stars, for the second time in this record.
Temple Grandin Too
For previous Andrew Jackson Jihad fans, the Too in this song makes perfect sense. Just in case, the Too is kind of a recurring joke in AJJ songs, beginning with People II: The Reckoning, continued with People II 2: Still Peoplin', and coming to this song. Sadly, it's not another People, but you don't always get what you want.
This song begins with sincere guitar and Ben's soothing bass, and begins with ordinary lyrics. Yet, this is where it begins to feel kind of weird. Sean begins singing about Jesuses (obviously meaning good people). The overall meaning of this song is about how the world doesn't like good people, and how we should try being good ("Let's be Temple Grandin for the night"). Yet, this song is another one of the forgettable ones, and doesn't offer much for us to remember it by other than killing Jesuses.
2/5 stars. Tsk tsk.
Angel of Death
My personal favorite song in this album, and the last song in it. It includes the self-deprecation standards, has lyrics about children having abnormal lives, and is riddled with 'I am's'. It even has the literal hyperboles and the wacky possibly-symbolic lyrics. It has a beautiful wobbly keyboard part, Ben's upright bass, acoustic guitar, drop-outs with bass and instrumentation that isn't loud. It is a great song, and when Sean sings about the thing that gave his grandfather cancer, I realize this is the end. The record is over, and this is the new release from Andrew Jackson Jihad, the thing I've waited three years for.
4.5/5 stars. Rock on.
Overall, this was a pretty solid record. Although it didn't quite meet the expectations set by Knife Man, it followed up with honesty, clarity, and insanity. And truthfully, what else could one ask of a band but that?
Children of God
Do, Re, and Me
Getting Naked, Playing with Guns
I Wanna Rock Out in my Dreams
Kokopelli Face Tattoo
Temple Grandin Too
Angel of Death
I give this album a 76, which is a C. Not bad, but not insanely good.