Rejoice! We’ll Never Make it Out Alive: Anarcho Folk Punk from Andrew Jackson Jihad

Like driving past a car crash, the music of Andrew Jackson Jihad is so shocking you can’t help but linger a moment longer than you should. Listening to People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World, iCrates took some kind of weird pleasure from being confronted with the dark, sadistic and repressed recesses of human desire, and suggests you do to.

Every once in a while there comes a band whose music is so astounding you can’t help but tell everyone about them. Usually, people are eager to listen (if you’ve got a good track record, that is). What I’ve found more often than not is when I try to get people to listen to “this really obscure anarcho-folk-punk band called Andrew Jackson Jihad” I am generally met with blank stares. Understandable. Andrew Jackson Jihad is a band that you either love or are completely horrified by. While most people would say it’s okay to be horrified by a band whose songs’ themes consist of rape, cannibalism, a sadistic god, and murder (and sometimes love), what’s more interesting is why people are so disgusted by these themes to begin with – and it’s for this reason why Andrew Jackson Jihad is so spectacular.

Andrew Jackson Jihad was formed in Phoenix, AZ, consisting of Justin James White, Sean Bonnette, and Ben Gallaty. Released in 2005, their debut album Candy Cigarettes and Cap Guns held no shortage of malice (the second track is titled ‘Be Afraid of Jesus’), but it was the 2007 release of People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World that is their most cohesive. Every song comes back to the same principal, that all destruction is inherently human made.

The album opens with the misleadingly titled ‘Rejoice’. It details a god whose ears are stitches, eyes are X’s, burns witches, and performs hexes. With a god like that, there is no choice but to “rejoice, despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds”. The frenzied guitar that accompanies the lyrics heightens the sense of immediate danger. From god, to earth (“the sky is fucking falling”) to man (“your nails all got chewed off”), rejoicing in the face of the end of the world is the only option AJJ gives us.

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Andrew Jackson Jihad – ‘Rejoice’

The second track ‘Brave as Noun’ grabs your attention, if they didn’t have it already, with its opening lyrics “I could go off the deep end / I could kill all my best friends”, reinforcing the tone for the next 25 minutes of music. ‘Brave as Noun’ flows seamlessly into ‘Survival Song’, a retelling of an abusive childhood and the creative plagiarism that will be dealt with later in the album. ‘Survival Song’ gives the listener a break from the frantic guitar, but instead of relief this only deepens the feeling of impending darkness.

It couldn’t be more appropriate. The next song is titled “Bad Bad Things” – a rabid version of The Doors’“The End”, in which the protagonist butchers an entire family. Upon completion, he thinks “if I don’t go to hell when I die I might go to heaven (but probably not)”. The song ends ferociously with a single dissonant chord, leaving the listener to wonder what life after death really is (remember your god!).

But don’t worry AJJ’s not all bad, which they remind us of with “No More Tears”, a desperate plea to end the harm humanity inflicts on itself(racism, discrimination, foster kids, drugs, SUVs, etc.) and to come together as one human race. “No More Tears” is the closest to an upbeat song on People That can Eat People you’ll get, as the following “Bells and Whistles” contemplates the fate of a baby born to a decapitated mother.

“Randy’s House” is the most frantic song on the album. In contrast to Neil Young, AJJ desires its candle to “flicker and die” instead of “burning down to the ground”. Even the vocals seem out of breath, until the end slows into a melodic, melancholy few seconds of pleading.

Perhaps the creepiest and most surreal track on the album, “A Song Dedicated to the Memory of a Rabbit” explores the idea of reincarnation – albeit as “a big ball of meat that bees can buzz around and eat” in a bid to find a sense of purpose in existence. The guitar plucking sounds like a ticking clock, adding to the eerie feeling of ageing and death that pervades the album. “People II: The Reckoning” reveals the aforementioned plagiarism: ”In fucking fact, Mrs. Robinson, the world won’t care whether you live or die”.

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Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Personal Space Invader”

The penultimate track “Personal Space Invader” starts off as a recording demo, giving the listener the feeling that they’re sitting in on the process of coming up with this twisted song about a series of bizarre problems. “I gave birth to twin wire hangovers” is only one of the protagonist’s “lots and lots of problems” (which include the production of cocaine by kidnapped children). Again, the only solution AJJ offers is to “be kind to those you love and be kind to those you don’t / be the best fucking human you can be” – a message delivered with the same erratic, high pitched, pseudo-folk guitar that is both melodic yet unsettling.

Finally, “People” closes out the album with a glimmer of hope for humanity. Despite people being wasteful, rude, racist, hateful, impatient, and selfish, they are also all people – regardless of creed, skin, or gender. In the end, AJJ has “faith in my fellow man / and I can only hope he has faith in me” – a moment of deep sincerity amidst the chaos.

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Andrew Jackson Jihad – “People”

If you’ve managed to retain your faith in the human race after 25.2 minutes of frantic folk music detailing all the horrible things people can inflict on each other and themselves, then perhaps you’ve unlocked the secret to People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World. There’s no other way to make it through this life – don’t forget, you’ll never make it out alive – so you may as well join together and rejoice in the good you can find along the way.

Illustration by Harmony Pillon.