Andrew Jackson Jihad - Christmas Island | Album Review | By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything
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Andrew Jackson Jihad

Christmas Island

A simple force speaking through a conduit.

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Author: on May 15, 2014
7.8
SideOneDummy Records

Christmas Island is a difficult record to pin down; as I’m about to call it wistful, “I Wanna Rock Out In My Dreams” gives way to the raucous single “Kokopelli Face Tattoo”, and I’m back to square one. It speaks to the band’s superb capacity for covering diverse sonic ground elegantly that this should be the case; the only moment which stops this flow is the gorgeous “Linda Ronstadt”, which feels to be the album’s centerpiece despite wandering in unannounced at ninth in the running order. “Linda Ronstadt”‘s winning play is its relative smoothness which, married to heartbreakingly direct words about Bonnette “losing [his] shit in a museum”, arrests the momentum and allows Christmas Island to reflect on itself for the first proper time.

It’s an album, then, of quite remarkable contrast, accelerating from nostalgic ditties to full-throttle rockers, swapping strings for horns from track to track, and shifting tone from solemn to playful three or four times within songs. The closing moments of closer “Angel of Death” see Bonnette identify as both “the nuclear test Operation Dominic that gave my grandfather cancer” and “a hologram of a tanning booth in a history class from the future”, and perhaps these two related images highlight the duality better than most; Christmas Island is heartfelt in all cases, but remains aware that there are different ways to convey that emotion.

Despite the seamless shifting of styles, it would be wrong to call Christmas Island a cohesive record. At times, the album is almost too musically focused for its own good; “Deathlessness” sticks to its bare-bones aesthetic, pulled along by Bonnette’s anguished wails, and never really hits top gear, whilst “Coffin Dance” also gets trapped beneath its morose keys and rhythm and can’t get its melodic or lyrical claws above the surface. Both of these songs see Bonnette get lost, which is their main downfall, as his charming lyrics — sometimes morbid, sometimes hilarious, often both, tie the pieces of this patchwork quilt together with wit and intrigue.

For the most part, though, Christmas Island is a resounding success of song-writing and musicianship. Witness the brilliance of opener “Temple Grandin”, whose depth of meaning will startle anybody with half a heart; distorted guitars race out the traps as pianos stab to pronounce the most vital notes. The song closes with Bonnette and a crowd behind him chanting, “Find a nicer way to kill it,” a sentiment that will return in echoed form later in the record with unerring spirit. It’s one of the many tracks on Christmas Island that makes me wonder why folk-punk like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s can’t be more universally appreciated. For all its quirks, this is a record which lives and feeds off majestic instants of blunt-force feeling and smirk-raising humour, and there are more than enough of those to go around.

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