It’s always intriguing when an interesting band somehow makes one of the most uninteresting albums of 2014. Andrew Jackson Jihad– attention getting from the get go with their bonkers and frankly genius name– has long had a knack for making transgressive music while remaining silly and raw, which is something my archenemy Mac DeMarco still hasn’t figured out, despite what all of the 20-something middle-class white kids think. The opening line of their previous album, the criminally underrated Knife Man, starts simply with “The Michael Jordan of drunk driving played his final game tonight.” But with the opening track of Christmas Island we’re treated to the nonsensical line “Open up your murder eyes/and see the ugly that spat you out,” a stanza that means nothing unless you’re a high school kid that hates your EDM-obsessed classmates.
It may seem bitchy and reductive to contrast Andrew Jackson Jihad’s earlier work with their new material, but in the past the band made fairly simple music with occasional flashes of brilliance. Their uber-simple early acoustic only releases matched their fairly simple lyrics, but as they evolved into a more experienced duo, they began adding more instruments. And clearly they cannot juggle more than a couple of guitars and lyrics about meth.
Christmas Island is worse than bad; it’s safe. For a stretch of the album, a single cello line weighs down already aimless tracks, an attempt to add a sense of seriousness to songs about cults and putting gerbils in microwaves. Maybe they’ve turned into an endless feedback loop of mirrors looking into mirrors, a world of endless imagery and aimless sound.
It takes ten tracks before a true standout to come out of the woodworks. “Deathlessness” demands to be screamed at a mid-sized venue, filling the room with sustained screams and angst-filled carbon dioxide. Following that are two slow tracks, “Temple Grandin Too” and “Angel of Death,” songs that strip away all of the cheesy lyrics and unnecessary instruments. Funny, sad examples of that flashing brilliance.
It’s a fourth of a good album, or in other words, a pretty strong EP. But instead we’re “treated” to a full length. Who knows. Maybe this is just a reason for the band to tour. And to that I say, “Stevie Wonder to the bullshit.”
Andrew Jackson Jihad are currently on tour with Cheap Girls and Dogbreth. If you’re in Austin, catch them at Red 7 on June 2nd.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he’s not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can’t afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.