AJJ’s Back in the Jazz Coffin was a nice little mid-summer surprise. There was no announcement about its release, and what little promotion there was for the mini-album has already taken a backseat to the band’s current tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World. Which is okay, because even though Back in the Jazz Coffin is a fine listen it’s not exactly essential.
Back in the Jazz Coffin is mostly notable for scaling things back. The band has stripped away most of the instrumentation and members that they’ve added over the year, leaving the duo of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, best known as the band’s “classic lineup.” This lends a slight “back to basics” feeling on this album, so if your major complaints about Christmas Island and The Bible 2 were more about the oddball production and stylistic choices rather than the lyrical content, then this collection is for you. However, keep in mind that this is still the same band that did record the aforementioned albums, so even though they’ve scaled back here it’s still slicker than the bathroom recording quality of Plant Your Roots.
“American Body Rentals” is the band’s best intro track since “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving” off Knife Man, which is to say, rather than being a full fledged song, it’s a quick ditty that’s over in a flash but still manages to conjure up lyrically absurd images. Unfortunately, it’s mostly middle-of-the-road stuff from there. “Blood, Hatred, Money & Rage 2” and “Border Patrol (Yuma)” have some redeeming qualities: the former has some fun with words in the chorus (“blood, hatred, money and rage / that’s the food I eat / that’s the juicebox I crave”) and the latter would slide in easily somewhere between “Backpack” and “Linda Ronstadt.” The same can’t really be said for “My Crooked Leg,” which is just kind of there.
The highlight of this collection is the final track, “Fuckboi.” In true AJJ fashion, the song tells an uncomfortable tale with coming to terms about being a terrible human in the past, and having to live with that in the present. “I don’t deserve the chance to say I’m sorry but I must because I have to live with me. I have to live inside of me,” the narrator sings to a pregnant woman that he previously mistreated. It’s not easy to come to terms with realizing the awful things you’ve said or done in the past- and it’s even harder when you realize that no matter how badly you feel about it, you’ll never feel as badly as you made them feel and saying “sorry” isn’t going to be enough to heal every wound. As uncomfortable as it can make the listener feel, “Fuckboi” is AJJ at the top of their game.
Back in the Jazz Coffin will be fun to revisit occasionally, but first and final tracks aside, it doesn’t make a very big splash in AJJ’s discography. Completists and fanatics will gobble it up, but the casual listener is best off waiting for the next LP that gets the full promotional treatment instead of a single Facebook post.
3 / 5 Stars
You can stream Back in the Jazz Coffin below.
RIYL: Ramshackle Glory, Mischief Brew, Mountains Goats (circa 2002)