Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered and mastered by Sam Patlove
There's self-deprecation and then there's Andrew Jackson Jihad. The Phoenix, Arizona, band takes it up a number of degrees and where it tops out is still some hyper-ventilating version of it. It's ruthless and it's unrelenting. Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty knock themselves down to size so often that we should barely be able to make them out any longer, existing only as the outlines of what they used to be, though they'd argue that it wasn't much to begin with. But therein lies the genius of what the group accomplishes and exemplifies. Self-deprecation is just a humbling and it's done by the one person who can hurt you the most. It's taking all of the available knowledge that one has about oneself and all that has been obtained through the perceptions that others have and cooking them up into a Molotov cocktail of sorts that can than be hurled at oneself, right at the mirror, to smash it all to smithereens. It all blows up into one's face and others generally find it quite amusing, even endearing. It's a smart way to obtain friends, even if you don't think you're cool enough to deserve them, or that you'll be able to hold onto them for any length of time.
Bonnette and Gallaty have great senses of humor, either about themselves, or for the character that they're creating as Andrew Jackson Jihad. It's easy to hear the songs in the same way that we hear every Mountain Goats song -- as the continuation of some part of the ongoing saga of the fictitious married couple that John Darnielle has been following since his boombox and cassette days. We are hearing the broken pieces of a life that's led in earnest and in lieu of serendipity or many payoffs. Things are hard and yet, it is what it is and there's not so much that's going to change.
The person that AJJ is molding is someone who might not have many great things to say about himself, but he'll be damned if he's gonna take any fucking shit from anyone else either. There's enough pride in this wounded soul to kill an elephant. It's what gives so much depth to this character. He's a person who is willing and actually a bit eager and enthusiastic to admit his shortcomings and considerable failures, but they're his nonetheless and he'll take them, warts and all. This character sings about his lack of interest as if it were something heroic. He sings, "I wanna put on my sweatpants/But don't you know I'm trying to quick/I wanna give a shit again." It could be an admittance that could attract a standing ovation in the right company. It could bring about the kinds of knowing and agreeable head nods. There are others -- millions of others out there -- who feel the same exact way. They would like to get into their sweatpants right about now, if it wasn't for these flashes of ambition that they've told themselves that they must listen to. It's just funny how it still never ends up completely right in these folk-punk songs of Andrew Jackson Jihad, even when a shit is given. They sing, "If you think you are better than me, you're right/There's no one to love/There's no one to trust in my life/I wanna pick up the pieces and plant them in the ground/When a tree grows there I wanna chop that tree down/And build it into a boat and float it in a lake and with dynamite I'll explode the thing that makes me make mistakes." It's self-deprecation, mixed in with a little self-sabotage. It's been known to do the trick.
**Very important programming note: Frank Turner plays piano on the Neil Young cover of "Roll Another Number."