It would be easy to believe at first glance that The Bible 2 represents a more toned-down version of AJJ, and that’s a strange thought. After all, this is a band who have managed to push their way to the front of the folk-indie-punk crowd while being one of the most sardonically subversive acts the scene has to offer, and this being the first album that sees their former moniker of Andrew Jackson Jihad acronymised would suggest that – gasp! – a sellout is afoot. Because with overly-PC conventions ready to pounce upon anything that could be deemed even the slightest bit “offensive”, why not adopt a more universally agreeable name, presumably for an extra bit of radio play and promotion on the side?
Fortunately that’s not the case. The Bible 2 is AJJ wholeheartedly being themselves – awkward, off-kilter and still a bit too weird to appeal on a widespread level. It even seems as though they occasionally sabotage themselves, lest they become too much of a normal band; for any track on this album that could weave its way into the public consciousness in the hands of any other artist, there’s always some extra quirk that AJJ chuck in to keep themselves grounded. Infrequent gurgles of synth and cello break through the rough-hewn acoustic guitars, the album scuttles every which way around the tonal map, and frontman Sean Bonnette’s quivering vocals tiptoe the line between obnoxious and unbearably over-emotive.
But that’s where most of AJJ’s charm stems from. Though it occasionally does bypass charming into straight-up confusing – American Garbage‘s incessant non-sequiturs are incomprehensible even after multiple listens, and the static filter drizzled over My Brain Is A Human Body is borderline unlistenable – The Bible 2 is an album that feels consistently unique, even within its own genre. It takes the confessional, often cutesy tropes of folk-punk but skews them into something a bit more meaty and interesting. Golden Eagle‘s guitars have a ragtag squelch and squeal that’s almost in a garage rock vein, while the acoustics in tracks like Cody’s Theme and the manic Terrifyer are ripped at the edges more than usual to give an even thicker, rougher sound.
It’s a frequently fascinating listen, an album that has the benefit of a curiosity on first impact, but one that really needs to be dug into to truly grasp its meanings. Even then, it’s incredibly difficult to decode; Bonnette has a knack of telling detailed stories in his downtrodden, verbose manner, but in a way that feels uncannily like a stream of consciousness breaking through. The ramshackle plod of Junkie Church masks the narrator’s tales of a friend afflicted with alcohol poisoning, and Small Red Boy seems be an elaborate metaphor for the systemic evil of mankind, chronicling the raising of a representation of the Devil, before the narrator himself transforms into said Devil. The detail that AJJ pack into The Bible 2 is frequently staggering, wrapped in erudite imagery that requires complete concentration to fully unpack.
That’s why there’s no danger of AJJ losing their edge with this album. Quite the opposite actually – The Bible 2 is one of the most intelligent, layered albums released this year, one with virtually no mainstream appeal and revels in it all the same. Even though immediacy is essentially a foreign concept here, The Bible 2‘s real appeal comes when it unfurls itself and its true meanings. This certainly isn’t an album for everyone, but there’s something brilliant hidden away for those willing to look.
For fans of: The Front Bottoms, The Mountain Goats, Xiu Xiu
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Bible 2’ by AJJ is released on 19th August on SideOneDummy Records.