Review Summary: a quiet room for the overwhelmed
AJJ, for the most part, have been pretty hit or miss the past 10 years. Both Christmas Island and The Bible 2 presented a band that seemed to be steadily losing its direction with each new song and dampening the qualities that made them so interesting to listen to in the first place. However, The Bible 2 dropped back in August of 2016. It’s been about four years now, and a whole bunch of stuff has changed pretty radically. Both the social and political landscape in the United States has shifted and contorted dramatically in such a way that has one half of the nation clamoring with the other half almost nonstop, while the rest of the world struggles to find solutions to a very serious climate issue threatening to kill us all within the next hundred years. Mass shootings show up on our newsfeed every other week, Australia and the Amazon Rainforest have been set ablaze, and people continue to feel a mixture of disgust and apathy towards all the ill will existing and festering in the world. For AJJ, this all serves to be the spark that reinvigorates a band that desperately needed a clear and concise message to rally behind. Teaming up with old friend Jalipaz Nelson, who recorded the band’s material pre-Christmas Island, AJJ channel their frustrations outwards rather than inwards and create a piece of work that’s their most focused since 2010’s Knife Man.
Good Luck Everybody harkens more back to the band’s roots, shedding most of their electric instrumentation for the more acoustic and baroque stylings of Knife Man and Christmas Island’s softer cuts. Besides the energetic mid-album single “Loudmouth”, there’s hardly any tracks on here that could really be considered punk. AJJ instead opts for midtempo piano ballads and folk-pop tunes that get drenched in various embellishments and interesting bouts of studio magic. “Body Terror Song” gets dunked underwater, Sean Bonnette’s voice becoming mangled and garbled as it sinks deeper and deeper into the murky depths. “Psychic Warfare” makes use of a cello and some orchestral drums to really paint a cinematic and lush backdrop for which Sean can lament his distaste for the current sitting president of the United States over. Most of the tracks here, though, are brief and condensed acoustic tunes that drive home a variety of messages with a high number of surprisingly catchy choruses and melodies. Opener “A Poem”, featuring background vocals from scene darlings Jeff Rosenstock and Laura Stevenson, is a cut that proudly declares that music and poetry owe nothing to anyone and that those who wish to exploit it can starve to death, with nothing of value having been lost. “Maggie”, written from the perspective of an owner’s dog a la The Hotelier, is an unexpectedly melancholic tune that works with mostly just an acoustic guitar and piano. Overall, AJJ has stripped away the fuzziness of their previous releases in favor of a more soothing and acoustic sound.
The album’s main weakness arises in the form of its execution regarding the political messages sprinkled all throughout the record. It’s just too on the nose for its own good in a couple of spots. Bluntness has always been kind of a staple with AJJ and their lyricism, but tracks like “Psychic Warfare” and “Normalization Blues” have a couple of lines that feel a little clunky or clumsy. This in of itself is a criticism that will vary in range from listener to listener. Some will find it hitting the hammer on the head and driving home the exact message that it needed to get across. Others will find it preachy and dismiss it as “SJW” crap. Regardless of your views, a few lines on this record could’ve definitely been worked to flow better with the direct approach the band takes. This, however, doesn’t detract from some of the most concise and important messages the band manages to weave all throughout the record. “Body Terror Song” is an anthem to all who live with body dysphoria and other disorders. “Feedbag” is a heartfelt expression of isolation and of a wish to be more connected to other people. “Your Voice, As I Remember It” is a wistful eulogy to someone deceased who had not left anything behind to aid in remembering them. The band jumps from topic to topic, but the main theme is clear: the world is quite frankly in a bleak state and only getting bleaker with time.
Good Luck Everybody is very much a return to form for the band and a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the records that came before it. AJJ finally feel like they’ve found a steady direction, one that takes from their roots while incorporating some of the experimentation that worked well on Christmas Island and The Bible 2. While it lacks much in the way of punk energy and electric instrumentation, all the tracks found here are satisfyingly grim in both sound and message. Closer “A Big Day for Grimley” is easily one of the band’s best. Once the final refrain of “Good Luck Everybody” dies out and the patriotic whistle melody becomes distorted and played alone, AJJ perfectly delivers their thesis statement:
We're far from entering the new decade on anywhere near the best footing.