“You don’t have it any better, you don’t have it any worse, you’re an irreplaceable human soul with your own understanding of what it means to suffer. And that’s a huge bummer”
Knife Man, the new album from Phoenix folk-punkers Andrew Jackson Jihad, is summed up effectively by the band itself with the abovelyric, taken from standout track People II 2: Still Peoplin’. AJJ have been steadily progressing their brand of twisted humanism hidden behind catchy melodies with each album and Knife Man sees the band take another step further away from its roots as purveyors of furiously ramshackle acoustic songs played with an almost overwhelming amount of passion and earnestness. While some may bemoan the more considered approach taken sonically on parts of Knife Man, it does mark a logical progression from previous album Can’t Maintain, who’s closing track White Face, Black Eyes hinted that the band may be heading in this direction.
This isn’t to say that Knife Man lacks the same punch as older material. Lyrically, Andrew Jackson Jihad could certainly be described as having a unique voice and principal songwriter Sean Bonnette is firing on all his hyper-literate, full of disturbing imagery cylinders here. Some listeners may find Bonnette’s voice and occasionally challenging lyrics off-putting but he clearly has a genuine vision for the band and his lyrics convey a coherent body of work with a great deal of thematic depth. Touching topics ranging from racial politics and religion to homelessness, depression and apathy, Knife Man could certainly not be categorised as an album that covers safe ground. Bonnette is blessed with the ability to turn a phrase and manages to imbue his songs with complex thoughts delivered with the fervour of a street preacher bemoaning man’s lost humanity.
AJJ’s ability to write catchy, thought-provoking tunes is documented most successfully on Hate, Rain on Me. The song feels like a continuation of Heartilation, the opening track from Can’t Maintain, albeit with a much more developed sound. As Bonnette rails against his own self-loathing and apathy, the song bounces along with a melody in stark contrast to the lyrical content. At once cathartic and infectious, it encapsulates everything that makes Andrew Jackson Jihad such a vital band.
While not as immediately accessible as previous albums and possibly in need of losing a couple of songs, Knife Man is a worthy addition to Andrew Jackson Jihad’s back catalogue and the continued progression of the band’s sound provides an arguably more rewarding listen.