Andrew Jackson Jihad – Can’t Maintain
Record Label: Asian Man Records
Release Date: October 13th 2009
I’ll admit that folk-punk is a genre that I’m not terribly familiar with, but I saw a copy of 2009’s Can’t Maintain by the folk-punk duo Andrew Jackson Jihad recently, and I decided to pick it up. Not only because it was on clearance, but because I saw a copy of another record of theirs (the name of which escapes me) at the same store a year prior. While it wasnt the record I originally saw, it would have to do. Nonetheless, I was very excited to listen to it, because it was something new for myself. As a reviewer, I always want to challenge myself, mainly by listening to something I’ve never listened to before, or never was interested in listening to. Folk-punk is not a genre that I’m familiar with, but that won’t stop me from reviewing this record. One of the first things that caught me off guard was the fact that it was only about 28 minutes long, especially because there are thirteen songs on the record. That’s not a problem, by no means, but it did throw me off slightly. As for the accompanying music, I was very surprised by what I heard. I wouldn’t say that I was completely blown away, but I was pleasantly surprised. The only band that even closely resembles AJJ that I’ve listened to would be Joyce Manor, who is on the same label as them, coincidentally. That band is rather minimal in terms of instrumentation as well, but nonetheless, it’s a very interesting record. With that being said, however, let’s do our best to maintain ourselves while listening to this record, shall we?
The record begins with “Heartilation,” and one thing that I already noticed are the insanely long and/or nonsensical titles, but those don’t really hinder anything from the music first. Right from the bat, vocalist/guitarist Sean Bonnette begins singing as a very energetic guitar riff comes through the speakers. This first track is only about two minutes, and it ultimately describes the whole record – a lot of really short, fast, and to the point songs. Bonette’s voice slightly bothers me, just because it’s rather pitchy, but it’s not awful, either way. For being in a folk-punk, his voice does fit nicely. I digress, however. Second and third tracks “Self-esteem” and “Love In the Time of Human Papillomavirus” show off the other side of the band, the softer and slower side. The former is an acoustic track that’s very short and sweet, and the latter is a two-minute track that has an orchestral vibe to it, which makes it rather interesting. It leads into next track “Evil,” which has a banjo and piano as the brunt of the song, as played by Owen Evans. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of musicians do make an appearance on the record, not only Bonnette and Ben Gallanty, who make up Andrew Jackson Jihad. Even stranger, but still awesome, fifth track “You Don’t Deserve Yourself” features a saxophone, and it’s a really cool track.
As the record goes on, it’s more or less of acoustic jams that are quite fast, and energetic, yet only clock in at a minute or two. That’s my main problem with this record is that the songs are way too short. I understand that punk rock is a genre that’s not necessarily concerned about song lengths, but while I don’t really like albums that drag on too much, this one just goes by. When you think one song is about to keep going, it ends and just moves onto another one, and that’s over before you know it. You don’t want to sleep through this record, because you may miss something, sadly. There are some highlights on the second half of the already very short record, however. One highlight comes in the form of ninth track “Truckers Are the Blood,” mainly because it’s the second longest song on the record at three minutes. This song is another melodic and softer song, so that alone makes it a highlight. While the songs are rather short, I do admire the diversity and variety in terms of instrumentation. Another highlight comes a few songs later with “Sense, Sensibility.” This is the only song I’ve ever heard that features a whistling solo, and it’s the weirdest, yet coolest thing that I’ve ever heard. It sounds like something I’d heard in the film Juno, because that film had a lot of songs like this, which is not a bad thing. That’s one of my all time favorite films, actually. Closing track “White Face, Black Eyes” is also another highlight on the record. It’s another acoustic track, but it features a piano and other orchestral instruments to end on a high note.
Personally, I have mixed feelings on this record. I admire the diversity in the instrumentation, but the song lengths are way too short for me. Some of the songs are nice, but most songs clock in at about a minute or two. The fact that these songs have really interesting and unique instrumentation is great, but the fact that they end before they can really go anywhere is a problem. Not a big one, but a problem, nonetheless. Lyrically, this band is also really cool, with themes of politics, social commentary, love, and an internal conflict with the writer on some tracks (such as “Self-Esteem”), so while I enjoy the lyrics, Bonnette’s voice can get a bit grating after awhile as well. This album is great as a whole, even if it’s about 29 minutes. For being the first folk-punk record I’ve ever really checked out, it’s certainly interesting to me, because it’s something new. Regardless, this was an interesting record, despite being so short. Folk-punk is a genre that I’ve never quite listened to, but this record definitely made me more interested in it.