In the early days of the Pandemic, I spent a lot of time with Sean Bonnette – not literally; he’d host a daily livestream in which he would play a few songs; AJJ fan favourites, covers, and requests of either. Owed to the guilt of cancelling a domestic and overseas tour (not his fault, ‘twas a pandemic), the humanist within shone as it has since his band started performing songs of social justice and injustice just over fifteen years prior. AJJ’s brandless brand of sincere folk punk remains intact even as it takes several guises; despite its best track being about Bonnette’s pet dog, 2020’s Good Luck Everybody stirred the putridness of Trump’s America – “the lake of dead black children that America created / is getting fuller than the Founding Fathers even wanted (No Justice, No Peace, No Hope) – following numerous changes of pace in the band’s discography, including more frequent incorporations of synthesiser.
If society enjoys latching onto any ideal above all else, that ideal would be regression. AJJ analyse regression – destroying the planet, destroying each other – on Disposable Everything, whilst refusing to regress themselves. Or maybe they have regressed; Disposable Everything is vicious, human, consciously invigorated, the closest AJJ have come to primitive in over ten years. But when folk punk grips these traits, that’s when it kicks the most ass – we’re in a panic, and this is what panic sounds like.
Don’t be mistaken, not all of Disposable Everything is drenched in feedback or implicitly animated, but when teaser track Death Machine was first released, I did think “the more songs that sound like this, the better”, and there are enough of them for uncloaked rage to be the album’s main merit. Death Machine is the record’s focussed, free-roaming theme song, offering hypothesis on a plate; our current dystopia is a bomb that’ll wipe us all out at any moment, and Sean’s methods of using simple synonyms to determine as such is crazily impressive – it’s no exaggeration, it’s not just your imagination, he’s not being hyperbolic, both literally and symbolic. I adore his vocal inflections when he sings “doesn’t matter who is steering, it’s just gonna keep on killing ‘til we find a way to finally break the routine” – there’s your panic; he’s piloting his shuttle and it’s headed straight for the sun.
And the other Death Machines are likely my other favourite moments of the album. These are songs that encase the wonder of disillusion dressed in major keys, all distorted and battering, the vital punk influxes even if they’re a little more dressed up than what one may expect from the genre, like what My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars is to Mitski, but not so lo-fi. Strawberry (Probably) kicks the album off with a combo of fuzz and simple chords reminiscent of the third part of Neutral Milk Hotel’s The King of Carrot Flowers. Commentary on greed and global warming encompass poetic device similar to that of Death Machine – “strawberry probably, obtuse obviously” – whilst everything remains anarchic and out-of-control.
The rhythmic signatures of The Baby Panda resemble those that decorated numerous songs of People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World. Connecting any chapter of AJJ’s catalogue, the song is an explosive middle finger to those who enforce regression, snapping “you make shit stupider” with a loosened rage that epitomises the album’s maddened highs. The songs of this style do pass us by rather quickly, none more-so than I Hate Rock and Roll Again, though its primary connector is its hot tempo. It plays like a textural Ramones song (check out that Rock and Roll Radio organ), or a full-band Daniel Johnston song, appropriate since Sean’s main reason for hating rock and roll is “Daniel Johnston died today and Neil Young is next”. Regardless, it’ll kickstart your heart.
These songs aren’t crutches; they are mere components in what makes Disposable Everything one of the most cohesive, complete albums AJJ have ever made, but such a feat wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t warded by slower songs. Granted, I can’t stand Candles of Love. The biggest compliment I could give it is that it is Beatle-esque, but it is so wimpy and flaccid – even as a counter to consumerism – that I don’t care who Tommy and Shannon are, nor do I care for its ‘when cheekiness is too determined to sound cheeky’ cheekiness, or its fine china faux sentimentality. Sean completes his mucky diatribe by singing “thank you, capitalism, never stop making stuff” as if we didn’t get it.
White Ghosts is the better slow dance, enticed by some Latin tinges, a pained vocal delivery that slides into uplift on the hook, and lyrics that are either precious without forcing preciousness – “in absentia and constantly loving you” – or curious without forcing curiosity – “my hate burned away, my cock knocked all in the dirt”.
Few are as curious as Moon Valley High – I’d say mainly for the lyrics, but set against an unsteady, atmospheric backdrop, before injecting trippy space age sections, there’s a whole lotta weirdness going on. Sean aims the song at Jake Angeli (yeah, that Jake Angeli), and theorises a friendship since their mothers were once friends, and if they’d have ended up on the contrasting sides of the political spectrum they belong to if they had been friends. Making sure to derive some humour, Sean does quip that Angeli’s infamous headwear makes him look like a member of Jamiroquai.
Moon Valley High has its tendency to sound like a throwback, with a few extra embellishments. A Thought of You compares, adopting a similar folk waltz to Power Plant, a particularly old AJJ song, capturing a horror story protest with strings and a psychedelic, near-Hindustani outro. Schadenfreude – all about using the titular concept for good and bad – similarly sounds like a classic, with comparable rhythmic shuffles, whilst also containing synthesiser screechy but unintrusive. Melodically-speaking, In the Valley is a floatier, riverboat version of the same song.
Going way back, the title track is a Woody Guthrie-style protest folk ditty – “lately, I’ve been getting down about greed and misery / avarice and viciousness and insincerity”. Its croaking violins display a ghoulishness, and the furtherance of its lyrics sway relatability – “lately, I’ve been feeling good and that makes me feel so bad / if happiness is finite, then I’ve had all I should have” – with defeatism detected in Sean’s voice.
I Wanna Be Your Dog 2 is an almost Weezer-like song about dependence, eventualising cathartic melodies that startle with simple impact – oh, I think there’s a marimba in there too, very sneaky. A rush of oxygen splashes over the song as Sean sings “and I wanna be the pebble that gets stuck inside your shoe” – what a hug. It’s not the only song that offers to hug it out, as Dissonance dissects society’s inability to focus on unity, thus becoming antisocial by nature. There’s a rage deep within its skin, but its musical disposition is bright and twee. Sean doesn’t receive enough credit for the depth of his artistic intent – there’s some juxtaposition shot straight up your nostrils, alongside all the references, wordplay, metaphors, vocal-instrumental-interplay, and other constructs.
Above all else, Disposable Everything is a beautiful example of Sean Bonnette’s aching heart, one that assembles and reassembles all that might make an AJJ album vital to our respective sanities. It rages when it needs to, cradles when it needs to, gets romantic when it needs to, gets freaky when it needs to (unfortunately, gets corny when it doesn’t need to, but those moments are anomalies). I’ve already called it one of the band’s most cohesive albums – what else needs to be said?