For all intents and purposes, Andrew Jackson Jihad should not be taken seriously. Their music is sporadic and stripped down, their writing blunt and estranged, and lead man Sean Bonette’s singing is, at best, unbearably whiny. With all of these elements that should make for a disaster, why on Earth is the final product so enamoring? For the average music listener, Andrew Jackson Jihad’s freshest release, Knife Man, might very well be the worst piece of music in existence. But beneath the seemingly dreadful exterior features, there lies a brutal honesty and a mutual understanding between writer and listener that latches onto those who can catch onto it. Songs like track six, “Distance”, which begins with a vulgar display of candid shamelessness, show a side to this punk-folk group that most bands are terrified of revealing – a human side with a beating heart and steaming emotions.
As Knife Man begins with the vignette, “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving”, it seems apparent that the group that wrote People That Can Eat People are the Luckiest People In The World has taken a sharp turn. The pace of the record goes from the deceiving plucking on the opener to the pounding assault of the senses of “Gift of the Magi 2: Return of the Magi” that reveals the punk side to Andrew Jackson Jihad. With their fusion of common folk instruments and the energy that accompanies more traditional punk-pop groups, Jihad open themselves up for more versatile ways to portray their odd writing. From the biting satire of “American Tune” and the hilariously self-awareness of “Sad Songs (Intermission)”, the listener comes to understand that Knife Man is not the outing of a group that is spouting songs for a record label, but rather clever writers with an understanding of the world around them. They take this intriguing style to new heights when they pair it with the catchy melodies of “People II: Still Peoplin’” and “Sorry Bro”, giving themselves both the appeal of a pop-punk group, but the sincerity of a well-versed folk outfit.
It isn’t until the album concludes with “Big Bird” that Knife Man really shows its true face. Every snarky and sarcastic line that composed the past fifteen tracks comes to a head when Bonette strips back that mask and shows the pulsing soul behind each of those songs. If it weren’t for “Big Bird”, Knife Man might never have met its full potential. The contrast between the immaturity of “Distance” and the punch-to-the-gut honesty of lines such as “I’m afraid of my grandfather’s cancer/I’m afraid of my mother’s dying arm” seals the record together in a poignant and appropriate way. Jihad’s conclusion to Knife Man is one of those rare moments that completely shifts the perspective of the record from a quick, self-conscious outing from a fun-loving punk-folk group, to a legitimate staple in the modern music scene. Easily one of the best records of the year, Knife Man rises above what has become the norm and shows a side to music that should be embraced.