AJJ (Andrew Jackson Jihad)

For their sixth album, garbagepop veterans AJJ chose to reinforce their strengths and leave any limp frivolities behind. They reconvened with producer J ohn Congleton, who oversaw 2014’s sonically expansive Christmas Island, but recorded and mixed the album in a mere nine days, having arranged most of the songs during tour sound checks and downtime in the van. This made for a confident stride into more elaborate arrangements and wider dynamics while staying just as dour. They also opted, amid some sensation, for the simplified band acronym (previously Andrew Jackson Jihad). Singer Sean Bonnette told The AV Club that, among many reasons, the change cleared a space for new imagery and allowed their music to define them, not their band name.

As a result, their new album, T he Bible 2 , is their most ambitious and assured collection of scuzzy punk screeds, employing even more production heft while sparing none of the vulnerability. The album’s mantra is placed right at the center: “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread”. The Bible 2 finds the band choosing intimacy over isolation, gravity over the vacuum, the stage instead of the scene. The album is also an examination of boyhood from an adult distance, putting some of its tumult and pain to rest.

It’s also the most impressive work of Bonnette’s, who has honed his confessional lyrical prowess into a punk inflected mire of Trent Reznor’s unrestrained turmoil, Jamie Stewart’s profane gallows humor and a touch of David Berman’s surreal quotidian imagery. Opener “Cody’s Theme” rings like Jay Reatard distorted with Neutral Milk Hotel neuroses ( “I set the mommy on fire / I set the baby on fire / not even Jesus could stop me”) . The character of Cody, a recurring Bonnette motif, returns as a koolaid stained kid navigating transience, intrusive thoughts and involuntary delusion, brimming wild with destructive energy and having nowhere to put it. Elsewhere, crosseyed metaphors float above the shredded acoustic Pixies tension of “Terrifier” ( “Some days you’re a member of Queen / other days you’re a Kottonmouth King”) , and some of Bonnette’s most intense grotesqueries ( “My blood is worse than your blood / this heart pumps baby piss”) get bitcrushed into the lofi Guided By Voices pop of “My Brain is a Human Body”.

But Bonnette’s narrative skills, and the band’s growing nuances, have never been more heartbreaking than on “ Junkie Church”, a tender acoustic tale about affection and companionship on the lowest rung of society (“ I used your ribs as ladders / and I climbed up on your chest / and I jumped up and down just like a trampoline” Bonnette sings). Preston Bryant’s synth, Mark Glick’s cello and Ben Gallaty’s bass are employed to haunting Leonard Cohenlike production ends, staccato plucks and serrated chords hiving like gnats then quickly dissolving into darkness. This cinematic arrangement also bolsters the powerfolk epic “Small Red Boy” , organ heaves and cymbal swells coloring Bonnette’s vivid story of rebirth.

Near the album’s midpoint, right after spelling out their thesis, AJJ pounds through the jangly throb of “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye”. The song is a cathartic fever dream, the band walloping furious chords, a kissoff to so many things worth shedding: the emotional heap of a past life, some longaching baggage, any and all expectations.

 

Photo Credit – Nancy Walters