On Christmas Island, the band's version of buzzing, barbed folk-pop gets a slight bit more polish, and in turn the dose becomes more potent, though its effect is uneven.
If you know Andrew Jackson Jihad, you'll be unsurprised by the scuffed edge and shiny-eyed wild streak that runs through Christmas Island. But the band's version of buzzing, barbed folk-pop gets a slight bit more polish here, and in turn the dose becomes more potent. Songs like "Temple Grandin" and "Kokopelli Face Tattoo" are equal parts desperation and zeal, sung by people who seem beset on all sides by pitfalls and deception. Other songs, like "Getting Naked, Playing With Guns" and "Linda Ronstadt", turn down the nerve in favor of moodier spaces, where the loss feels more personal than the lashing out of the other tunes. When the band nails it, Christmas Island is both a deathly funny shot at various absurdities and a deeply personal airing of grievances. Those are the moments that let us into what's under all these brash tunes. But often, maybe too often, the band's zeal to call bullshit makes for metaphors and images that push too far -- there's a "puddle of body parts / Inside a bowl of angel hearts / That the children were eating" at one point -- and while the album relies on dark humor, sometimes its darkest moments are more distracting than effective. Those moments obscure the album's new strengths, but Christmas Island still shows new sides to the Andrew Jackson Jihad sound, ones the band should continue to push at going forward.