AJJ’s Sean Bonnette is probably the greatest master of post-modern ironic humor in the entire punk world. He might be even better at it than Jeff Rosenstock or Chris Farren. On their eighth album, Disposable Everything, AJJ find themselves at the top of their game for clever jokes and pop hooks. These are art punk’s finest jesters, and they’re serving up some of their best disaffected humor.
First, “Strawberry (Probably)” swings in with an undistorted guitar and wild drumming. The bass, cranked up half a notch too high, vibrates us off of this plane of existence. Bonnette starts laying down the themes of the album from the get go. Consumer culture and the disposable nature of everything—even people—are on front and center here, as the title suggests. But Bonnette is far too clever to leave the entire meaning that close to the surface. There’s also a self-critique buried in there. He turns a critical eye in on those who would dismiss culture as being merely disposable. He wants us to get at the real complexities of capitalism. Bonnette doesn’t want us to merely take them for granted in either direction.
The opening of “Dissonance” with the throwaway spoken line “Solidarity forever, man,” could refer to solidarity with any number of groups. But knowing AJJ, they’re more likely just expressing general solidarity with anyone who needs it. The xylophone hiding in the mix on this tune, not to mention the raging guitar solo towards the end, really create the fun and catchy elements that make this song addictively sweet. “Moon Valley High” poses an interesting hypothetical about two people who would have been friends had their respective mothers not had a falling out with each other. The driving electronic beats highlight the undistorted guitar chords to create a really proggy atmosphere.
“Death Machine” then makes a big joke out of nihilism, all the while espousing genuine nihilism. Everything on this album seems to both literally represent itself but also has another layer of implied irony. There’s some really unusual electronic effects in this that compliment AJJ’s typical bouncy darkness. Then “White Ghosts” pulls the handbrake as everything slows down into a delicate ballad that, again, ends up coming off both earnest and ironic.
The title track begins by harkening back to the band’s simple folk-punk roots with just a simple guitar before a string section comes in to create a foreboding aura, which is a really unique instrumentation to find on a folk punk album. But, then again, AJJ have never been one to play by the rules of… well, anything. “The Baby Panda” is a synth-heavy rocker that returns to Bonnette’s cheerful nihilism. He seems to mock the idea of blaming individual consumer’s for larger environmental problems. Bonnette tosses around the concept of blame in a rather flippant way here. That should always be a sign that there’s an underlying joke in the lyrics.
“Candles of Love” is a slow piano ballad that could almost sell itself as being completely serious if taken out of the context of the rest of AJJ’s work, except for the moment at the very end where the speaker in the lyrics thanks capitalism for producing the candles. That could only be a joke coming from the likes of AJJ. Then “I Hate Rock and Roll Again” kicks things into a higher gear. It’s a song that’s, ironically, one of the hardest rocking tunes on the record. In it, Bonnette complains about the pitfalls of the genre in approximately 60 seconds. “Schadenfreude” is a heady examination of pettiness and anger that’s filled with Bonnette’s hilarious phrasing: “I wish that I could eat it/That it could cure diseases.”
“I Wanna Be Your Dog 2” seems to be referencing the Iggy Pop classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” But, rather than doing a direct Pop parody, AJJ produce a new song under a similar concept that goes a little bit more literally into being a dog than the original. “In the Valley” has a string section and undistorted guitar again, as well as a little piano, to create a quaint and quiet little closer.
Eight albums in, AJJ show no dulling of their wit. They’re as much in their top form now as they were for classics. Disposable Everything is the album for anyone with a hipster’s sense of humor but who still likes an occasional distorted power chord.