Andrew Jackson Jihad: Christmas Island (Side One Dummy)

Slow burning excellence from the Phoenix, AZ folk-punks on album number five

Released May 5th, 2014 via Side One Dummy / By Lewie Peckham
Andrew Jackson Jihad: Christmas Island (Side One Dummy) Since their inception in 2004 the duo of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gellaty have progressed from their beginnings as a nihilistic folk-punk act to, well, still a nihilistic folk-punk band fuelled by self hate and a weariness of the world around them but since 2011’s Knife Man there as been a noticeable progression in sound.

Bringing in a revolving door cast of musicians to add depth and texture to the bare bones acoustic guitar and upright bass that forms the core of the bands sound, on record Andrew Jackson Jihad have grown musically and lyrically over the course of three albums and newest opus Christmas Island seems to be their most ambitious to date.

Working with producer John Congleton who has already worked on three of 2014s most impressive albums (Angel Olson, St. Vincent and Cloud Nothings) has allowed Bonnette and Gellaty inject their themes of love, hate, poverty, religion, politics with an assortment of sonic textures that makes Christmas Island the bands most cohesive album yet.

Musically falling somewhere between the deft, lyrical wit of John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats and the passionate punk rock heart of Plan-It-X stalwarts Ghost Mice, ‘Christmas Island’ has its mix of Fest-ready bloody knuckled shout-a-longs like album opener ‘Temple Grandin’ (which sees Bonnette declaring himself “the Helen Keller of the bullshit”) and the distorted fuzz of ‘Kokopelli Face Tattoo’ that pack all the sarcastic, snotty punches that those already familiar with the band will welcome like a long lost friend.

The most engaging moments of Christmas Island are found in the quieter songs where Sean Bonnette is at his most vulnerable. ‘Linda Rondstadt’ is far from an ode to the legendary country chanteuse with its themes of homesickness and emotional instability. Likewise, album closer ‘Angel of Death’ is a heartbreaking soliloquy taking in themes of a post-apocolyptic view of the future and, more touchingly, the death of Bonnette's grandfather. As a songwriter Sean Bonnette is capable of spinning a yarn worthy of such literary musicians as the aforementioned Darnielle but also, as showcased on album highlight ‘Children of God’, nods to Jeff Mangum's lyrical knack for the abstract and surreal, full of symbolism and metaphorical declarations. Tales of “Children eating angel hearts’ and “USB ports in their arms that were bleeding” lay on top of a “tra-la-la-la-la” singalong chorus and a nightmarish tale of religious scaremongering and end-of-the-world chaos.

There probably wont be another album released this year which tackles such ominous subjects with such humour and vigour than Christmas Island. There are lines and verses which you will uncover with repeated listens, some lyrics are the offensive joke cracked at the children's birthday party and others the sense-making couplet that comes through a pair of headphones at 2am, that make you want to delve in all over again. It’s those surprises and rewards that bring Christmas Island closer and closer to being one of 2014’s most rewarding listens