The Bible 2
Only when burdened with the duty of describing AJJ’s music does its weirdness become fully apparent. In fact, “weird” is the only word that fits right, especially applied to Christmas Island, their 2014 full-length. While listening, songs like “Do, Re, Me” and “Best Friend,” with their sawed bass and strange organs, are sweet and hummable, folky and funny and almost normal. But try to describe “Getting Naked, Playing With Guns”—its cowboy chords, Sean Bonnette’s uneasy warble, his lines about killing the neighbor kid, the quiet keyboard solo lifted from “Just What I Needed”—and weird once again becomes the only word.
Their most recent release, The Bible 2, is less weird, but maybe only because its foundation—built on guitar and bass and 4/4 drumbeats—feel more familiar.
It picks up where Christmas Island left off: With Cody, whose Kool-Aid-stained lips were immortalized in the song “Angel of Death.” Fizzier than a shaken can of Coke, “Cody’s Theme” seems to match the destructive potential of its protagonist, but it backs off during it’s third chorus; “I had to talk to the teacher,” Bonnette sings, his voice hushed with a sort of remorse, “She talked to my mom / We had a real long talk.” Before long, though, the acoustic guitars explode, scritchy with distortion, and the dissonant keys stab in time with the stomping drumbeat—but not without showing a bit of depth.
“Cody’s Theme,” along with most of the songs on The Bible 2, repackages AJJ’s weirdness in an indie-rock wrapper that seems easier to swallow (or at least explain). “American Garbage,” which uses an allusion to Girls to make sense of oneself, sports fronds of beach guitars and breezy synths. “White Worms” bounces and bobs, its acoustic chords rattling against a tambourine, while Bonnette sings “I saw white worms coming out of your skin.” Guitars fidget beneath Bonnette’s fearful voice feels in “Terrifyer” as he sings “I witnessed greatness / I kicked its teeth in / More teeth sprouted just like the skull of a child.” Its strange, surreal lyrics like these that contribute to this dichotomy—weird and accessible—and work so well.
Like other AJJ’s albums, The Bible 2 contains within its weirdness and surrealism moments of grace and truth. On Christmas Island, the raw confession contained in “Linda Ronstandt” became a kind of climax; Bonnette returns to this honesty in songs like “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” a sentimental piano ballad that somehow captures perfectly the pain of pain, the sorrow of sorrow. “When something I hold dear is out to hurt me,” he sings, “I kick that feeble dream then whisper something like a prayer: / No more shame, no more fear, no more dread.” Similarly, “Small Red Boy,” starts so strange, with its thin acoustic chords and Bonnette’s line “I found a small red boy inside my tummy / With three dollars in change and a Milky Way Lite.” But the song builds so solemnly, with dark strokes of cello slanting behind Bonnette’s wavering voice, toward a sort of figurative, imagery-ridden epiphany about the evil inside ourselves.
And then there’s that bridge in “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” where Bonnette quietly about avoidance—“Seventh grade was hard enough / Someone thought that they knew me / If I stay in bed long enough / They’ll go to church without me / if I move away enough / they won’t outrun me / Goodbye, oh goodbye”—that’s so sharp and so sad that, as the song rumbles back to life, its bound to induce tears of recognition.
This, of course, is what makes The Bible 2 so brilliant—not its strange poetry or mismatched instrumentation, and not its folk disguised as punk-rock disguised as folk, but its introspection, its sincerity, its courage; it’s in Bonette’s ability to convey these more palpably in the absurd. All of this, of course, contributes to a weirdness that only becomes fully apparent when burdened with the duty of describing it, but that only needs a couple spins to be understood and completely appreciated.