First of all, with a name like Andrew Jackson Jihad, you know this has to be good, and you'd be right. Comprised of Sean Bonnette (guitar, vocals)and Ben Gallaty (upright bass, vocals), a social worker and a gravedigger from Phoenix, AZ, the duo has been producing smart, politically-tinged folk punk since 2004, this time assembling a full band to make Knife Man their most majestic opus yet. Folk music and punk rock are inextricably linked both due to their attitudes and ties to protest music, but it's still always amazing when bands clearly bridge that gap. Against Me! has done it many times, and Andrew Jackson Jihad has done it every time.
The record grabs hold from its opener, "The Micheal Jordan of Drunk Driving," a silly 20-second dose of Americana that feeds into the straight up jangled punk of "The Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi," a punchy tune full of spit that sets up much of the record - a sound that comes across like John Darnelle of Mountain Goats decided to drink a little bit too much coffee before stepping up for a guest gig fronting the Dead Milkmen, right after he found out somebody stole his bicycle and kicked his dog.
Politics are heavily present, but presented with a liberal bit of smirking humor and no preachiness. On "American Tune," racial and gender inequality is attacked by simply pointing out that the guys in Andrew Jackson Jihad don't need to deal with it. On the chorus of "if I see a penny on the ground, I leave it alone or f**king flip it, I'm a straight white male in America, I got all the luck I need," the point is made, without ever attempting to reach the level of overkill or pretentious self-righteousness. And on "Zombie by the Cranberries by Andrew Jackson Jihad," as well as being one of the best album titles ever (and not actually having anything to do with the Cranberries' song), the issue of homelessness is addressed, and through lines like "Cause I think you deserve much more than a smoke and 50 cents. You deserve to be self sufficient and buy your own cigarettes," the band is pointing out that homelessness is an issue for sure, but not saying they have the solution, or telling you how to go live your life to help them combat the issue.
On Knife Man, AJJ becomes the funnier, friendlier, cooler counterpart to This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb. Both bands make points that you agree with in a folksy way, but you know exactly which one would be more fun to grab a beer with after a political rally.
Despite the heavily acoustic vibe, the punk attitude and sensibility is blatantly apparent and fun. "Hate, Rain on Me" is another silly slab of punk fun, it's more smart punk jangliness, which opens with the sneering "I wish I had a bullet f**king big enough to kill the sun. I'm sick of songs about the summer. And I hate everyone." It's pretty perfect.
In fact, just about every song is perfect in it's execution, like the self-pitying "Distance," which explains itself with the line "I hate whiny, fucking songs like this but I can't afford a therapist," and "People 2: Still Peoplin'" just really points out that everybody has it kind of rough, and it's OK to feel bad for yourself, even if you're not at the bottom "You don't have it any better and you don't have it any worse. You're an irreplaceable human soul with your own understanding of what it means to suffer." Therein lies the message of AJJ - the world has a lot of problems, a lot of big problems, and we all need to be aware of them. But at the same time, you're no less of big social thinker for having your own problems, and wanting to address them first and foremost. It's not selfish - it's realistic.