General Admission Standing Room Only
AJJ frontman Sean Bonnette can summarize the band’s new album, Good Luck Everybody, in a single sentence: “Sonically, it’s our least punk record, and lyrically, it’s our most punk record.”
And indeed, Good Luck Everybody (January 17, 2020), the Arizona band’s seventh album, stands out in their already diverse catalog. While still rooted in the folk-punk sound AJJ has become known for, the album is unafraid to delve into new territories that test the limits of what the band is capable of.
“I think it explores some of the weirder sides of AJJ, the more experimental leanings that we’ve had in the past,” says bassist Ben Gallaty. Good Luck Everybody draws from a wealth of sonic inspirations, from Laurel Canyon folk-rock of the 60s and 70s to avant garde artists like Suicide, as well as some orchestral pop. There is even a piano ballad, the tragic “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope.”
Lyrically, Good Luck Everybody is a change of pace from the idiosyncratic songwriting style Bonnette has honed over more than 15 years fronting AJJ. It still features his wonderfully weird turns of phrase and oddball word pairings, but this time, his thematic lens is more directly focused on the inescapable atrocities of the world around him. Longtime fans will recognize the album’s social commentary as a return to their 2011 release, Knife Man, but this time it’s fueled by a more radical urgency.
“I usually try for a timeless effect in songwriting, so that you can hear a song and generally not think about the context under which it was written,” says Bonnette. “But for this one, I was trying to write, and all the bad political shit just kept invading my brain and preventing me from writing that way. So I decided to fully embrace it and exorcise that demon.”
Much like Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs pulled their songs straight from newspaper headlines, Good Luck Everybody feels like a long scroll through social media feeds on a particularly volatile day.
The song “Mega Guillotine 2020,” for example, came directly from Twitter. It was influenced by Twitter funnyperson @leyawn’s popular tweet depicting a mockup of a French Revolution-style guillotine with one blade and enough headrests for 15 Congress members. Bonnette says the idea inspired him to press record and start playing, and when he did, the entire song came out of his brain fully formed. The final version also features backing vocals by Kimya Dawson.
“There’s something that comes along with scrolling through your phone on Twitter or Instagram and seeing a puppy, and then a joke from a comedian, and then a young black person being shot by police, and then another puppy, and then your friends announcing a tour, and then children in cages,” says Bonnette. “There’s something in that that fucks your brain up. I don’t know if it’s made me more of a passionate arguer or just made me confused and numb.”
On “Normalization Blues,” Bonnette laments what this never ending deluge of atrocities has done to our humanity: “I can feel my brain a’changin’, acclimating to the madness / I can feel my outrage shift into a dull, despondent sadness / I can feel a crust growing over my eyes like a falcon hood / I’ve got the normalization blues, this isn’t normal, this isn’t good.”
Later, on “Psychic Warfare,” Bonnette takes out some aggression on the man at the root of it all, albeit through his trademark polite aggression: “For all the pussies you grab and the children you lock up in prison, for all the rights you roll back and your constant stream of racism / For all the poison you drip in my ear, for all your ugly American fear, I wrote you this beautiful song called ‘Psychic Warfare.’”
After years of partnering with Asian Man Records and SideOneDummy Records, AJJ is releasing Good Luck Everybody on their own, via their new label AJJ unlimited LTD, with Specialist Subject Records handling the European release. Bonnette and Gallaty also produced the record themselves and, in addition to their usual cast of collaborators (Preston Bryant, Dylan Cook, Mark Glick, Owen Evans), it features guest appearances from Thor Harris, Jeff Rosenstock, and Laura Stevenson.
“One thing that makes me rather giddy is that without a label or a producer, our listeners will have no one to blame besides us for the way our sound has changed,” laughs Bonnette.
For all of its dark leanings and its pessimistic reflections on modern culture, AJJ hopes that fans will ultimately come out of the album in a hopeful place. By its final track, “A Big Day for Grimley,” it feels like AJJ is holding the listener’s hand, staring at the looming apocalypse ahead, and whispering a message into their ear: Good luck, everybody.
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There’s a line on Oceanator’s debut full-length when Elise Okusami belts, “I think I think too much.” It’s a plainspoken yet resounding thesis for an album called Things I Never Said, which sees the NYC multi-instrumentalist hyperbolically equating early adulthood malaise with apocalyptic destruction. The type of anxieties that form when thoughts bottle up and stress gets the best of you. Throughout the record, allusions to intrusive thoughts and depression-induced stasis are weaved in between references to falling skies, rolling fires, and the possibility of the world literally falling apart. “If the sun never came up tomorrow / do you think we would even notice?” Okusami asks in “I Would Find You,” a moody ode to staying out late and sleeping until the afternoon. Or as Okusami puts it, “keeping to the shadows.”
However, while her emotional and physical solitude makes for a resilient foe, Things I Never Said is ultimately a record about finding comfort in the face of destruction. Whether it be through appreciating the little things, like “hot tea on a cold fall day / and dressing up for Halloween,” or forming a bond with someone you can mutually confide in about mental afflictions (“I told you I could never be enough / you took me by the hand / and told me you understand”).
Complementary to the extraordinarily direct subject matter, the songs themselves are punchy, sticky, and immediately engrossing pieces of heavy grunge-pop. The album opens with pounding power-chords that Okusami tastefully palm-mutes in order to accentuate the hook, and then lets rip by the song’s gratifying climax, adding a simple yet hooky lead riff for extra emphasis. Although she recruited a couple friends/members of the Oceanator touring band to play many of the bass and drum parts, Okusami is the sole songwriter/arranger of her music, and the instrumentation feels intimately connected with her lyrics.
“Heartbeat” is a racing power-pop cut with a joyously shreddy guitar arpeggio that perfectly translates the chest-thumping rush of being near your loved one into song. “The Sky Is Falling” is a song about being consumed by depression and witnessing everything fall down around you while you remain stuck in a state of paralysis. In it, Okusami’s voice is cleverly quiet, stark, and resigned as the chaotic, walloping guitars thrash and burn around her. One of the record’s standouts, “A Crack In The World,” breaks down into a half-tempo churn toward its end, as Okusami swears that “I’m still trying my best” despite the news on the TV. The song literally sounds like it’s spiraling down into its titular crevice, while Okusami desperately claws at the ground to keep “the skies blue anyway.”
There’s no concrete resolution to the album, but rather a vital reminder that love and friendship, both with others and herself, will always reign victorious in our darkest moments. The album ends with a song aptly titled, “Sunshine,” in which Okusami, backed by just her chugging guitar, details a day of venturing outside into the sun and subsequently accepting herself in solitude. “I’m okay,” she repeats a few times at the end of the track, before resolving with the renewed comfort of “on my own.” The album artwork features a cartoon sketch of Okusami sitting alone in a chair in front of a blue background that could very well be those blue skies she was fighting to maintain sight of. Her tepidly peaceful demeanor on the cover art suggests that she’s wise enough to know that this feeling won’t last forever, but that it will in fact return—echoing two of the last lines on the album: “Sometimes it gets me down / but I usually come around.”
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Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out, the second full-length record from Philadelphia band Gladie, opens with a contemplative instrumental called “Purple Year.” Along with acoustic strumming and a late-night wall of cricket-chirps, cello and gentle horn runs set a dewy, moonlit stage before second track and single “Born Yesterday” bursts alive with drums, bass, and bright guitar chord crunch. It’s like a cold, heart-jolting morning plunge as Augusta Koch’s familiar Philly tenor starts in: “It takes me more time, I’m a little unsteady/I was born yesterday, I forgot I could be somebody.”Koch realized while writing these songs that she had become an entirely different person: a mental, spiritual, and physical renaissance had unfolded over several years that, together, constituted an entirely new reality. Everything had changed, from relationships with friends to relationships with alcohol. Being on the other side of these tectonic shifts offered the sort of clarity that you can only get by going through the darkness: You Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out. It’s optimistic, but it’s scary, too—life changes always are. Who will you be at the end of them? “Born Yesterday,” which Koch wrote about not drinking alcohol anymore, offers a critical revelation that guides the record, and which was hard-earned while experiencing the overwhelming emotional acuity that developed while living without alcohol: “The way I feel, I could fill the ocean/When the wave comes crashing in, it said I’m not a fixed thing/I’m changeable.”
“I like the idea that the record’s title can be both a positive and a negative,” says Koch. “It could seem sad, but it can also be hopeful in the sense that when you’re going through something really rough. It will get better, you will change, you will survive it, and you will be able to see it from a different perspective that you never thought you could.”Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out cycles through these transitions sonically and thematically. “Hit The Ground” is a folksy, desert-drive shuffle, while “Nothing,” opening with feedback screech, is a punk-rock rollercoaster ride that rejects the American cultural drive to want more and more and more until we die: “What would it feel like to want nothing?” cries Koch.“Soda” tells a shoegazey, indie-psych love story that imagines creating our own normal when we’re around the people that make us feel seen, rejecting societal pressure to hate ourselves and feel like we’re not enough: “I like the way we live in tandem and the world we wish to see/Sweet and cheap, we thrive on less,” Koch sings on the second verse. The gentle alt-rock waltz of “Smoking” reflects on a deeply missed habit, and pensive, spacey, synth-and-cello-centric closer “Something Fragile” ends the record with as many questions as it started: “Am I something fragile or something strong?” Koch wonders, still finding her footing in strange new realities.
Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out marks the first Gladie production with a set band lineup, a feature which was previously hampered by the pandemic. As a result, the LP leans into Gladie’s live energy and dynamics, moving away from the home-recorded keys and drum machines of their 2020 debut Safe Sins.Koch recorded Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out at The Bunk in early 2022 with Matt Schimelfenig (guitar, keyboard, vocals), Pat Conaboy (guitar), Dennis Mishko (bass), and Miles Ziskind (drums). Schimelfenig also recorded and mixed the record, while Ryan Schwabe mastered. Mark Glick (cello), Mike Park (saxophone), and Brian Lockerm (trumpet) guest across four tracks.
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