Review Summary: A praiseworthy mix of raw charm and honest feelings.
"Open up your murder eyes and see the ugly world that spat you out" are the first words heard out of Sean Bonnette's mouth on Christmas Island, Andrew Jackson Jihad's fifth and most recent studio album. No one is given even a split second to recover as while one might be wondering "did he really just say that"", another strident line is already flowing with passion from his lips.
To confine Andrew Jackson Jihad to a single genre would be next to impossible. The instruments one finds at their live concerts are as diverse as the wide ranging references made in their songs, with instruments including an acoustic-electric guitar, upright bass, cello, mandolin, electronic harpsichord, and an unorthodox drum set. They are a band with eclectic influences and are often labeled as folk punk or anti folk. Everything about this band hits you hard and cuts you deep. They possess obscene bordering on traumatic lyrics delivered by screeching vocals infused with rage all over a maddening collection of string and electric sounds.
At its core, Christmas Island still has the staple of all AJJ records, ambitious yet heavy lyrics. These lyrics are the most complex to date from Sean Bonnette who had not released original material in three years because of a "creative drought". The lyrics certainly return with a bang as topics include addiction, racism, poverty, family deaths, and self-loathing. As in other records, Sean seems to have a flawless and unique ability to convey the most depressing thoughts and scenarios while having our mouths not help but form a sort of wretched smile from his clever and witty mind. The journey one is taken on is dark and twisted, yet one needs to laugh not only as a coping mechanism but as a form of self realization that one is singing about such topics to connect to fellow humans.
This 12 song album also displays a further progression for Andrew Jackson Jihad who seems to never remain stagnant musically. Electronic synthesizers and piano embellishments provide innovative sounds never before heard from this group. In addition, AJJ has help from ROAR member Owen Evans and even Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart who has a verse on the 4th track "Coffin Dance". The collective vibe of the album seems to be vaguely positive in a peculiar way and there are new aspects to pick up on with each listen including intriguing musical melodies and genuine lyrics that delve beneath their face value.
A true "grower" of an album if there ever was one, Christmas Island can be enjoyed upon first listen, but it cannot be truly understood without multiple visits. Sean Bonnette provides no answers to the horrific questions he asks, but rather gives everyone a ominous tour they never signed up for but felt satisfied with nonetheless. The frontman works at a soup kitchen in his spare time, references Vonnegut Jr, and screams lyrics so personal that we can't help but commend his truly self aware perspective of life. The tortuous tales he shows us are all too real and this is one of the many reasons Christmas Island succeeds as an album in an truly incredible way.