Since I happened upon and consequently became a fan of the folk-punk movement some years ago, there is one band more than any other that I have followed with unabated interest and appreciation - the Phoenix, Arizona duo Andrew Jackson Jihad - who have a brand new full-length album out on SideOneDummy Records. Titled Christmas Island, this album sees Andrew Jackson Jihad a long way from the early days of the band, the days of Candy Cigarettes & Cap Guns and Issue Problems, but certainly not at all removed from the core sound and practices that they have employed through it all. That is not to say that their sound hasn't evolved somewhat over the years. For such a band that is inevitable. And evidenced by the twelve songs on Christmas Island, that isn't a bad thing at all.
Quite simply, from People Who Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World and Only God Can Judge Me, to Can't Maintain and Knife Man, to Christmas Island, Andrew Jackson Jihad's Sean Bonnette (guitar and vocals) and Ben Gallaty (upright bass) have shown a refusal to be limited by genre and expectations, and thus have moved a few steps from their bare-bones acoustic compositions to including a fair amount of additional instrumentation to complement each song and expanding upon their sound. For the Christmas Island songs the players are Sean and Ben, of course, Preston, Deacon, Dylan Cooke and Jamie Stewart.
Christmas Island is the band's first studio full-length in three years. After songwriter Sean Bonnette admitted to being temporarily burdened by self doubt and creative juices that had congealed for a time, he and friend and bandmate Ben Gallaty teamed up with producer John Congleton (The Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, William Elliot Whitmore, The Dismemberment Plan, etc) for their fifth and arguably best studio album to date. Also for the new album, Andrew Jackson Jihad brought in visual artist Suzanne Falk to create a photo-realistic painting of a diorama she and Sean made together, the title of which is "Everything we were ever looking for was there all along."
Christmas Island opens with the up-tempo "Temple Grandin," an indie pop and folk-punk composition with slightly distorted vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and keys. And for those of you who aren't familiar with the name Temple Grandin, she is many things, including an activist for the autistic. "Do, Re, and Me," the shortest song on the album at just under two minutes, has a late '50s rock'n'roll feel together with Andrew Jackson Jihad's signature folky and punky sound. "Coffin Dance" is one of the album's slower tracks, as Andrew Jackson Jihad songs go, with a line of lyrics clearly inspired by the gritty crime drama film Bad Lieutenant - "Shoot him again because I can see his soul dancing." Prominent keyboard, cello and drums mark "I Wanna Rock Out in my Dreams," whose lyrics, which mention black leather pants, big boots, denim jacket and Flying-V guitars and then move into leaving, lying and death, make it a decidedly bittersweet arrangement. "Kokopelli Face Tattoo," a song that appeared on the band's 2013 live album from The Crescent Ballroom in their hometown of Phoenix, is certainly a standout as an energetic punk piece with clever lyrical content. "Deathlessness" has an almost rambling country-esque feel to it. And "Angel of Death," the album's closing song, is a mid-tempo song with diverse instrumentation and lyrics like "...I'm a blank page in a notebook waiting to be filled with countless drawings of cocks / I'm a bathroom wall freshly painted over to cover up swastikas and the names of girls that we called sluts..."
As usual, the lyrics are intelligent and well composed, with personal moments and humor, and more social observation than political statement. It is a commentary of the human condition, both good and bad, genius and folly, absurdity and seriousness observation and experience; and they don't exclude themselves from these contrary actions and traits.
Christmas Island by Andrew Jackson Jihad is an important album, not just because it took three years for it to find its way to fans, or even because the band switched from Asian Man Records to SideOneDummy, but because it is first and foremost an essential experience both musically and lyrically. The album was released on May 6th, 2014, and is available in CD or vinyl formats.