Andrew Jackson Jihad make a return on their new label home, Side One Dummy, after a long tenure on Asian Man Records. Usually when a band makes a jump after a long run, many find a cause for concern. I assure you, there's nothing to worry about. The lyrics are as offbeat as ever and the compositions are still whimsical and catchy. The album also welcomes back Preston Bryant, Deacon Batchelor, and Mark Glick from Knife Man's recording sessions--this time as permanent additions to the band. As a more well-rounded full band this time around, everything feels more contrived.
They open Christmas Island in true Andrew Jackson Jihad fashion. "Temple Grandin," is the classic folk romp you can expect from the band. It's a song described by frontman, Sean Bonnette, as finding your own way to ignore people that try to bring you down. There's nothing to bring down here. The song leads into "Children of God," which keeps the pace going. The piano is much more present on this record, and it's such a welcome component -- adding even more pleasant harmony to the songs. Up next is, "Do, Re, and Me." The track is pure rhythm and beautifully composed while backed with witty macabre lyrics. The stream-of-conscious references to something like Man is the Bastard is something you'd probably only find in Bonnette's lyrics.
Christmas Island begins to slow down with, "Coffin Dance." It's heavier on the organ and cello. Since the album is primarily all acoustic, everyone is getting their chance to stick out. It's also making for a more dynamic record. There's even a surprise guest -- Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu -- and his voice fits really well on the song. I can't imagine him fitting on any other Andrew Jackson Jihad track. Bonnette takes the reins on, "Getting Naked, Playing with Guns." From his vulnerable vocals to his grim lyrics -- it's a simple song that moves and disturbs you at the same time. They start to build things back up on, "I Wanna Rock Out in My Dreams" before they get back their energy for, "Kokopelli Face Tattoo." This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It sounds like a blend of Weezer and The Weakerthans.
"Best Friend" is a bit of a forgettable track. It's mid-tempo and just not a very exciting song. A much more interesting song follows. Some people might initially find a track entitled, "Linda Ronstadt," humorous because well, who expects a song about Linda Ronstadt? However, that's not quite what it's about. It's about a personal breakdown in a museum that features another beautiful composition, and the bridge is one of the best Sean's ever delivered. His description of an overwhelming feeling being, "...a dog that won’t stop barking. Like a cut that never stops bleeding. Arizona sunsets in the early evening, or a grown man inconsolably weeping," is enough to choke anyone up. Andrew Jackson Jihad try their hand at a rumbling country song with, "Deathlessness," before returning to their more folk sound on "Temple Grandin Too." The pacing kind of feels awkward by the time we get to the closer, "Angel of Death." A problem with having these two back-to-back is "Temple Grandin Too" felt like was the closer. Both would have worked, but "Angel of Death" does the better job of bringing the album to a decent end.
The Side One Dummy debut is a solid output from the quirky folk group. While their previous record, Knife Man, had some great tracks, that album felt more like a collection of songs. Christmas Island has a better flow up until the final few songs, and the production is the best we've heard from an Andrew Jackson Jihad record. There are still insightful, moving, and unconventional lyrics, and they're all mixed into great diverse songwriting. What else could you ask for? If you haven't heard Andrew Jackson Jihad yet, now would be a great time.