Review Summary: Even with the added instrumentation and new ideas, AJJ still manages to feel incredibly honest and undeniably human.
Andrew Jackson Jihad are a band that have always been on the controversial side of the folk-punk spectrum. In the first few years of their existence, they were purist acoustic folk musicians. They consisted of a stand-up bassist and guitarist and played catchy folk songs, while keeping a “punk” edge. In the vein of many other folk artists though, they began to add elements to their songs that would be considered blasphemy to the folk purist. 2009’s Can’t Maintain showcased electric guitar, saxophone and even kazoo. While they had mixed results, the simple idea of them rejecting folk tradition felt like a natural progression for the punk band.
On Knife Man, AJJ are venturing even further into their previous heresies. Every one of the sixteen songs on this album feels like a new experiment. Overall, they are very successful. The pop-punk anthem cleverly named Gift Of The Magi 2: Return Of The Magi, begins the album with a bang and a declaration that they have evolved from their humble beginnings. The album continues by exploring a darker take on indie rock with Back Pack, a lonesome blues tinged style on No One, and the country-esque Sad Songs. Despite the shift in styles, this progression feels like a natural and logical flow. Knife Man is cohesive in its variety, and excels because of that.
Often, when musicians add new instrumentation to their previously minimal work, it loses the undefinable quality that made it special. For example, when Bob Dylan began using an electric guitar, fans were outraged. They complained that the emotion that was evident on songs such as Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are A-changin was lost. This is certainly not true for AJJ. If anything, this album and its added instrumentation enhance the ideas behind the music. In the band’s typical fashion, it comes full force with the cynical and brutally honest lyrics that border on hilarious melodrama. But instead of making these lines sound like complaints (as they did on previous efforts) they feel genuine and in some cases, brilliant. A good example is the song aptly named American Tune. It describes without censorship the unfair advantages of being a straight white male in society. Keeping true to punk tradition, AJJ say exactly what’s on their mind. Whether the ideas are interpreted as meaningless complaints, or profound criticism, there is no denying that they are genuinely felt.
Andrew Jackson Jihad’s Knife Man is an impressively consistent release. It expands on previously successful ideas while still retaining the emotion that made it special; something that many artists in the past have not been able to do. It is a breath of fresh air from start to finish and an album that I would recommend to anybody with an open mind and an interest in music that, above all else, feels undeniably human.