Back In The Jazz Coffin

Self Released

Rating: 3/5




If you had told me that folk-punk outfit AJJ was going to be a hugely successful underground staple over the past thirteen years, I may have laughed the suggestion off.  After all, how long could an acoustic band keep their edge writing social satire through silly themes like cannibalism, cigarette commercials, and the untimely demise of kittens?  Well, apparently quite a while.  Not only has the band gone through several significant stylistic shifts – from wiry acoustic champions to fuzzy garage punks – but they’ve managed to sustain their unmistakable wit through each incarnation.  

Their latest EP, Back In The Jazz Coffin, is an oddity in the AJJ world as the band actually takes a step back in time and revisits their former acoustic selves.  Opener “American Body Rentals” is a classic sub-minute opener in the tradition of those like “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving” and “Cigarettes.”  In this case, the band generates a playful little jingle based around body image and expectation.  “You can get it on top, at American body rentals, anything you want, at American body rentals,” sings Sean Bonnette, elaborating on the benefits of enhanced popularity and friendships.  It’s a concise, surefire classic for AJJ fans and ideal entry for the EP.  

The band then jumps back into a simple take on their classic full band acoustic formula with “Blood, Hatred, Money and Rage 2.”  The song plods along with acoustic guitar, keyboard, and other subtleties as they detail the confrontational mentality that contemporary America hungers for in the metaphor, “that’s the food that I eat, the juicebox that I crave.”  The track loses a little steam mid-way in a heavily distorted guitar, but it does little to reduce the poignancy of such statements.  The remaining trio of songs meander through politically themes of border patrol saboteurs, employ lutching guitars with heavy distortion on “My Crooked Leg,” and conclude the EP by reverting back to a heartfelt acoustic less-than-apology to a lover once wronged.

Overall, AJJ provide a pleasant little diversion and supplement to their existing catalogue and direction.  The band released the EP as a surprise without warning, somewhat framing the disc as non-canon, and justifying the band’s deviation from their aural chronology.  The disc isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but none of AJJ’s past EPs ever have been.  They’ve always been more of a repository for fans to uncover individual nuggets.  It’s been quite a while since the Phoenix, Arizona quartet has played around with something less formal, and the return is more than welcome.



The Bible 2

SideOneDummy Records

Rating: 4/5




Ladies and gentlemen, after over two thousand years in the making, AJJ brings to you… The Bible 2!  

Talk about filling shoes of biblical proportion!  In many ways such a brazen move is exactly what we’ve come to expect from AJJ.  Like tricksters challenging the world through an altered lens, the Phoenix, Arizona folk-punk band have titled their album in jest.  Yet, a careful listen suggests that AJJ tackles this subject matter not so much as an outward critique, butmore as a vessel to address some long standing challenges with their own identity.  

In other words, the historical  ‘Bible’ may not have been selected as a strict commentary on religious worship, but more for the historical document’s foundational role as a blueprint for interpreting one’s life.  In essence, The Bible 2 finds AJJ at a crossroads, signifying a moment of strength in which they solidify their own beliefs, confront their plethora of anxieties, put their demons to bed, and embrace the truth of their messy, chaotic existence.  To this end, The Bible 2 seemingly revolves around two thematically direct songs: “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” and “Small Red Boy.”

The first track emerges five songs into album, grounding and reconciling much of the conflict characteristic of the spastic, fuzzed out garage-punk composing “Cody’s Theme” and “Golden Eagle.”  While these tracks build an angry, sarcastic image of life, “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread” speaks with an unguarded honesty.  A slow track by AJJ standards, the somber piano notes and sullen violin strokes emphasize the sincerity therein.  Sean Bonnette spells out his clear resolve beyond the album title in the closing remarks, “no more living in fear of the world, no more fixating, no more crazy making.”  After this point, songs like “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” emit a sense of liberation.  They’re still every bit as quirky as AJJ’s reputation would imply, but the change in sentiment is mirrored both lyrically and sonically.  For instance, rather than rant and rave about being ostracized by public opinion, Bonnette offers up a simple solution to a simple problem: “If you want to hear the devil’s music, then you should probably listen to the devil’s music.”  It’s simple, obvious, and freeing.

Several tracks later, “Small Red Boy” reinforces “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread” core message amidst a similarly sorrowful backdrop.  On the surface, the track tells the story of Barnette carving a small red child with horns out of his belly, looking into its eyes, and finding “the truth.”  He then proceeds to raise the child “oh so motherly,” embracing each milestone until adulthood, in which this devilish figure’s mouth transforms into a hallway in which he enters to complete his own metamorphosis. Our protagonist gains horns and his skin reddens until he too has become enlightened with the truth, concluding with a repetition of the message, “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread.”  While undeniably obscure at face value, in The Bible 2’s context, the transformation into the small red boy likely represents much more.  One might venture a guess that the small red boy represents external fear, shame, and the aforementioned anxieties.  Perhaps through nurture and curiosity, these “demons” reveal their true nature, and the final transformation takes on a sort of perspective redefining, worldly transcendence.  Of course this is AJJ, so the song is entirely open to interpretation and they’d never give you a straight answer if you asked (which admittedly, is half of the fun).

In terms of musical style, AJJ continues exploring the full band compositions that started with Christmas Island upon their signing with SideOneDummy.  The Bible 2’s most notable step forward is an increased alignment with fuzzed-out indie-rock.  For instance, tracks like “White Worms” and “My Brain Is A Human Body” march to a steady beat under a coat of pervasive distortion.  But The Bible 2 isn’t without a diverse sonic palette.  “When I’m A Dead Boy” harkens back to AJJ’s early unplugged, stripped-down Asian Man Records days, whereas “American Garbage” takes a more polished approach, subtly flooding the backdrop with pulsing synth waves.  The Bible 2 doesn’t sound like any single previous AJJ album, but rather a mashup of past and present inspirations.  It’s not as initially striking as Christmas Island, but grows on you as the scope expands.

Once again, AJJ engages listeners in that curious space between comfort and disturbance.  The Bible 2 poses questions of existence in curious and unconventional ways, never sacrificing AJJ’s mandate to explore pressing topics through cryptic metaphors, striking imagery, and pop-culture references (this time around including Queen, Cottonmouth Kings, Quiznos and Charlie Sheen to name a few).  

Video: AJJ – Goodbye, Oh Goodbye

AJJAJJ has premiered a new music video for the song “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.”  The video was shot in a single take and will appear on the forthcoming full length, The Bible 2, which is set to drop on August 19, 2016 via SideOneDummy Records.  Pre-orders are live.

Watch the video below.

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Tours: AJJ

AJJAJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) has announced that they will be hitting the road in the fall.  The band will be supporting their upcoming new album, The Bible 2, which is set to drop on August 19, 2016 via SideOneDummy Records

Tour dates are below.

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