Andrew Jackson Jihad's sincere sarcasm

By BARRY THOMPSON  |  October 26, 2011

SATIRICALLY SPEAKING Andrew Jackson Jihad sometimes find it challenging to do with music “what Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut have done with literature.” 

A lot of the time, rock bands are an unfunny, earnest lot. This is a serious problem.

Punks, frequently eager to shove a stick of self-important vainglory up their own asses, have been some of the worst offenders. But, as is usually the case with sweeping generalizations, the exceptions to this one make it look ridiculous.

The sloppily defined "punk" subset includes its share of dark comedic types: the Dead Milkmen, Dead Kennedys, NOFX, Henry Rollins (when he's talking instead of singing, at least). Andrew Jackson Jihad added themselves to that list in 2004 when they debuted in a Phoenix coffee shop. Wednesday, the duo open for the funny but not quite "ha-ha" Frank Turner at the sold-out Middle East.

Sometimes, AJJ achieve sincerity through sarcasm akin to an acoustic performance by Dead Milkman Joe Jack Talcum. When Talcum sings snarky old Dead Milkmen lyrics like "Life is shit, the world is shit," and "Sha Na Na were the kings of the '60s," total pathos prevails over the tongue-in-cheekiness of the original Dead Milkmen recordings. Other times, AJJ's wordy-bits resemble the ultra-acerbic and socially hyperconscious ruminations of Dead Kennedys songster Jello Biafra.

Observe snippets from the kazoo-laden folker "American Tune," off the new AJJ album, Knife Man:"I am white and I've got everything I need. No one clutches their purses when they're in a room alone with me." Later on it goes, "I'm a guy getting paid more than a girl with a degree. I can walk down the streets after dark. No one wants to rape me." It's about time someone wrote an honest anthem for straight white dudes in America. Being us kind of rules . . . for completely terrible reasons.

"I wanted to write a song about racism, but I couldn't find a way to write about it without sounding like a preachy white guy trying to win the best-white guy prize," says singer/guitarist chap Sean Bonnette, shortly after he and co-Jihadist and upright bassist Ben Gallaty recorded a Daytrotter session in Austin.

"I believe you can be taken seriously and still write songs that make people laugh. To find that balance between novelty and. . . . Actually, novelty should never factor into the equation. Trying to do what Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut have done with literature using music is a task, I think. Other songwriters read different authors and have different goals."

Though AJJ's lyrical content never strays too far from righteous indignation and/or self-loathing, their stylistic agenda disarranges song-to-song in zazzy ways. Can't Maintain (2009) stays nestled in their erstwhile "folk-punk" pigeonhole about as much as this year's KnifeMan — which is basically not at all. On Can't Maintain, "Kazoo Sonata in C Major" is exactly what you'd imagine, and is followed by a glockenspiel-laced flip-off to the haters, "We Didn't Come Here To Rock." Immediately after that, an eerie industrial interlude segues into a demure, doomed-romance ballad, "Love Will Fuck Us Apart."

And we've barely even addressed the kazoos. AJJ present a solid case for these marginalized party favors to usurp ukuleles as the randomly trendy weird instrument of the week — even if that's not their intention.

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