AJJ / Andrew Jackson Jihad

Christmas Island

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Since their humble origin as a teenage duo in 2005, Phoenix-based lo-fi folk-punk act Andrew Jackson Jihad have released a literal assault of albums, EPs, singles, and compilation tracks, gaining them a loyal underground following as they've toured their way across the U.S. and Europe numerous times. Led by the hyperactive and lyrically imaginative Sean Bonnette, AJJ play an often spazzy and obscurist take on the kind of wordy, urgently delivered indie folk introduced by John Darnielle's project the Mountain Goats in the 1990s. In both vocal delivery and style, Darnielle's music still remains the most obvious of AJJ's influences, though they've also adapted much of the fuzzy instrumental experimentalism of acknowledged heroes Neutral Milk Hotel. For their fifth full-length, 2014's Christmas Island, the band worked with producer John Congleton, whose own music as the Paper Chase follows a similar path of D.I.Y. adventurousness. Like the mishmash painting of brightly colored trinkets and tchotchkes that adorns the album's cover, Christmas Island is a loose assortment of occasionally humorous Dadaist lyrics and notebook scribbles thrown onto a table of ably strummed indie pop that includes cellos, acoustic guitars, and mandolins, among other disparate instrumentation. It's the kind of music that will always be polarizing, as some fans buy into it with fervor and zeal while other cringe from the first chord. There is strangely little room for indifference or head-scratching with Andrew Jackson Jihad. Are they as weird as they're trying to be? Does it really matter? Many of the songs are quite catchy, like the aggressive opener "Temple Grandin" and the almost sweet (almost) "Do, Re and Me." Some have great musical hooks paired with terrible lyrics ("Kokopelli Face Tattoo") and some sound so much like the Mountain Goats that it's uncomfortable ("Children of God"). Love them or hate them, the one thing that can be said for sure about AJJ is their complete, balls-out commitment to their own ethos. They do what they do with purpose.

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