Photo: Nancy Walters

The evolution that brought cult folk-punk favorites Andrew Jackson Jihad to the bigger, weirder, and more powerful AJJ was well underway by 2014’s Christmas Island. On The Bible 2, the seeds that singer-guitarist Sean Bonnette and bassist Ben Gallaty planted more than a decade ago have sprouted in even more unexpected directions, pushing toward psychedelic rock, synth-heavy post-punk, and even piano balladry. Throughout, the music molds to support and guide Bonnette’s lyrics, injecting a sharp, thrilling drama into AJJ’s newest batch of songs.

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AJJ’s earlier albums—particularly the band’s high-water marks for Asian Man Records, People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World and Knife Man—are certainly more cohesive than The Bible 2. But cohesive could also be defined as narrowness of appeal. With greater sonic and lyrical ambitions, The Bible 2 broadens AJJ’s appeal significantly, without changing the band’s essence.

Filled with punchy, clever, and absurdist songwriting, The Bible 2 retains AJJ’s oddball charisma, then layers on the sounds—strings, heavily fuzzed electric guitar, carefully deployed reverb—which producer John Congleton expertly harnesses into something both experimental and succinct. First single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” is a playful and open-throttle anthem, frantic music paired with Bonnette’s lyrics about feeling trapped, at different ages, and having to outrun others to find himself.

The peppy and macabre “White Worms” features one of Bonnette’s better “be yourself” lines: “If you want to listen to the devil’s music, you should probably listen to the devil’s music.” “Terrifyer” takes a different tack on that same notion: “Some days you’re a member of Queen / Other days you’re a Kottonmouth King / Some days you’re Emilio Estevez / Other days you’re Charlie Sheen.”

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The Bible 2 is not a dark album overall, but one that finds its human touch in the small wounds, doubts, and tragedies that can be as frustratingly routine as they are familiar. While the band’s earlier albums centered on a distinctly youthful perspective, this sixth LP finds Bonnette writing songs that connect more broadly.

On “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” Bonnette is in self-appraisal mode, fighting through despair to a shout-along chorus that uses the song’s title as a mantra for a better tomorrow. When that chorus shows up again on the gothic, hallucinogenic tale “Small Red Boy,” those words find a deeper emphasis and meaning. The closing track, “When I’m A Dead Boy,” is the closest The Bible 2 gets to the sound and spirit of AJJ’s earlier records, with lyrics that reference the Phoenix landscape, skateboarding, and teenage sadness. It’s a reminder, perhaps, that comforting tunes can coexist alongside adventurous music, just as memories can be carried next to bigger dreams.

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