What’s in a name? For the members of the band formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad, their name contained a remnant of immature insensitivity. That’s why the band decided to release their most recent album, The Bible 2, under the name AJJ.
Renaming is a risky move for a band. A band’s name is its brand, a way to introduce the uniformed to their music. My dad would never be able to pick out a Weezer song on the radio, but he would recognize the name instantly as the DJ dropped it. Maybe, in a way, AJJ is looking to dissociate with their past selves. This wouldn’t be the first time for the folk-punk group; they haven’t played a song off of their debut album, Candy Cigarettes and Cap Guns, in years due to overtly offensive lyrics, such as the line from the track “Lady Killer” which goes, “I’m a lady killer/And you’re a pretty lady/And that means I’m gonna kill you.”
Although the songs in their later albums have been less offensive, they haven’t been any less controversial, such as the title of the opening track off of their 2011 album, Knife Man: “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving.” This album, as well as 2007’s People Who Eat People Are The Luckiest People in the World and 2009’s Can’t Maintain, featured songs with scything social commentaries and acute reflections on topics ranging from homelessness to house fires to animal testing. This is the kind of music that caught my attention and converted me to a fan of these anti-nihilistic Phoenicians.
The release of their 2014 album, Christmas Island, brought with it a change in both musical style and lyrical content. Gone was the sparse folk-punk (occasionally edging into punk-punk territory) instrumentation and cutting lyrics. In their place were a fuzzy, more pop influenced arrangement accompanied by surreal lyrics bordering on psychedelic, not unlike the unusual mental pictures Frank Black would paint with the Pixies’ lyrics. Although the album had its enjoyable moments (such as the opener “Temple Grandin”), the band was not as successful with this approach to writing as they had been with their previous albums.
The Bible 2 continues this transition that Christmas Island started. The first chords of the album (from the song “Cody’s Theme”) are played with what I believe to be an acoustic guitar with a very fuzzy effect of some kind (think Neutral Milk Hotel’s busier songs). Frontman Sean Bonette still shows a knack for individual lyrics that jump right out and hit you in the face. My favorite lyrics from the album come from “Terrifyer”: “Some days you’re Emilio Estevez/Other days you’re Charlie Sheen.” However, these instances of clever writing are sullied by otherwise lackluster songs.
My favorite track form the album is the closer, “When I’m A Dead Boy,” which, I must admit, is due to the fact that it sounds the most like the band’s older work. With the folksy acoustic guitar and lo-fi recording, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a demo the band recorded 10 years ago and had forgotten about until recently. Clocking in at a mere 1:33, the song comes off as a giant tease of the band’s former self, showing they can still write songs like they used to, they are just choosing not to anymore.
The name AJJ doesn’t stand for anything; like the band’s newest album, it is open for interpretation. This may be an intentional, two-pronged attempt by the band to stop being preachy and invite their audience to think for themselves. And while I appreciate the sentiment, I really wish AJJ was once more informing me that “hope is for presidents/And dreams are for people who are sleeping.”