Friday, May 9, 2014

Gut Feeling: Andrew Jackson Jihad - Christmas Island

Andrew Jackson Jihad – Christmas Island
Side One Dummy, 2014

Sean Bonnette is a gifted songwriter who just keeps getting better and better album after album. Even though the lyrics on Christmas Island read like free association half the time, it’s Andrew Jackson Jihad’s truest, most emotionally devastating, strangest, and most wonderful album yet. It knocked me on my ass and I feel like I’m still sitting on my ass in the dirt and enjoying the rare sensation of having the rug pulled out from under me. It’s one thing to expect to enjoy an album, it’s another to realized you’re probably listening to an album you’re going to listen to 100 times and is probably going to be your favorite album of the year.

There’s just something about the contrast of these bright, upbeat folk-punk jams and the often incredibly dark, apocalyptic, and ugly yarns Bonnette spins over the album’s perfect 28-minute run-time (long enough to feel meaty, short enough to make me want more and skip back to track 1) that makes my heart sing. I mean, the album opens with the line “Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out.” That’s some metal shit. Throughout we have children eating angel hearts, a cult leader with music in his heart, a coffin full of orphans, a moving adaptation of the methodology of Temple Grandin, and an even more moving and absolutely devastating depiction of Bonnette losing his shit at a video installation of Linda Ronstadt. There are also numerous apocalypses (apocalypii?), a mention of the Slap Chop (and a callback to the Salad Glove!), the cruelty of little children, the horribly disgusting yet spot on line “with eyes as red as a dog’s asshole when you see it shitting,” and TWO FUCKING REFERENCES to Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It’s one of the most visually stimulating albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

The thing that makes Christmas Island so profoundly great is that it is TRUE. Just so fucking true it hurts. Every word is felt and meant and through all of the darkness, there’s a whole lot of hope and humor. And though the lyrics are the backbone of this album, it shouldn’t go unnoted that it was produced band whisperer John Congleton who once again worked some serious fucking magic. With amplified acoustic guitars, upright bass, and a cello that lends the album a certain elegance, the newly beefed-up band adds a depth to does these songs a lot of favors. The group’s 2011 effort Knife Man explored new sonics outside of the DIY realm, and while there were some big, beautiful songs on that record (“Big Bird” in particular capitalized on the newfound orchestral elements is maybe the group’s greatest achievement) ultimately the record felt spotty and overstuffed. Christmas Island on the other hand is both sonically and lyrically cohesive and this combination really helps you feel all the feely feelings.

What it really comes down to is that Andrew Jackson Jihad are just normal dudes. There is no artifice or pretension to anything they do and that is what makes me believe everything they’re saying. It’s what makes me want to listen to the stories they are telling. I have spent years and years listening to music and on Christmas Island I finally pinned down “Honesty” as the most important thing to me. Not big ornate guitar riffs or atmospheric breakdowns or du jour genre mash-ups but good old-fashioned earnestness and a willingness to let me in to see the real shit no matter how ugly or fucked up it may be.

You can listen to the album in its entirety on YouTube, but here are the highlights:

"Temple Grandin"

"Kokopelli Face Tattoo"

"Linda Ronstadt"

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