Jamie Kilstein is the Jello Biafra of jamband rock. He’s fearless, he’s funny, and he calls bullshit on just about every every corporate-sponsored lie and right-wing myth out there. On one hand, making fun of Republicans is like shooting fish in a barrel. On the other, Kilstein’s critique goes far deeper than simply the horror-stricken thought that barring the unforeseen, Donald Trump will be our next President. Together with his Citizen Radio co-founder Allison Kilkenny, Kilstein has a new book, Newsfail: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will. He’s also got a LMFAO debut album, A Bit Much – with his band the Agenda, streaming at Spotify – and a weekly Wednesday 6 PM residency this month at Sidewalk.
The greatest pitfall in writing political songs is that it’s easy to let yourself get strident, or doctrinaire, to start believing your own bullshit. Preaching to the converted never did anything to change the world: it’s the people beyond the amen choir that you have to reach, and Kilstein does it with the kind of machinegunning barrage of one-liners that he honed in standup comedy. He leaves no stone unturned, no target standing: the NRA, the banksters, racists dressed in both Klan garb and business suits all get the bozack. On one hand, Kilstein hardly sugarcoats anything: his jokes can be awfully grim. On the other hand, this isn’t just the funniest album of the year, it might be the funniest album of the last few years. And is it ever relevant. And even the music is good! Kilstein distinguishes himself as as funky and fluent guitarist, with a solid band – guitarist Nick Phaneuf, bassist Greg Glasson, drummer Joe Magistro and cellist Jane Scarpantoni – behind him.
There’s an amusing video of the album’s opening track, Fuck the NRA, up on the front page of Kilstein’s site. Over a purposeful hard funk backdrop, Kilstein speedraps both sides of a hilarious if sadly accurate dialogue about gun violence: “The Constitution didn’t say shit about your using Glocks to mow down Black teenagers ‘cause you’re afraid of anything not wearing a Klan outfit…you’re Steven Segall in real life, have you ever seen that guy run in real life, it’s terrible!”
Tiny Humans is closer to Matthew Grimm doing a spoof of early 90s open-chord indie rock. On one level, it’s a black-humor response in defense of those of us who’ve chosen not to have kids. On the other hand, the subtext is that if we don’t get global warming under control, those of us of childrearing age will be the last old people on the planet…if we make it that far.
With the next track, War, Kilstein goes back to mile-a-minute spoken word over a blisteringly noisy psych-punk-metal backdrop, akin to Jello Biafra right after the Dead Kennedys got finished off by the PMRC. It’s a spot-on, sarcastic look at American exceptionalism and the demonization of Muslims. Like the two guys who, after the Boston bombing, got fingered by some idiot and subsequently pulled off a plane for speaking Arabic, which, as Kilstein puts it, “doesn’t sound like Blake Shelton lyrics.”
Every Country Song Ever makes fun of New Nashville warmongering: “I found freedom on 9/11, when the Iraqis flew into Tower 7 – I read it!” Kilstein’s befuddled narrator crows. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell takes a shot at homophobia, from the opposition to gay marriage, to Bible-bangers quoting scripture: it’s Kilstein at his quotable best, and there’s even a good bluesmetal guitar solo at the end.
The surprisingly subtle Nerd Love takes a poke at both cliched corporate singer-songwriters and film geeks. Scared White Boy Blues is even funnier as both anti-racist broadside and parody of lame white funk: the backing vocals are priceless. Kilstein returns to rapidfire spoken word over slinky no wave guitar with This Is NYC, which connects the dots between the sweatshop economy, gentrification and homelessness, among other issues. Then, with the swaying, Hendrix-inspired JFC, he goes after the anti-choice mob.
Catcall is pretty hilarious, a funky tune that offers karmic payback for would-be macho dudes who harass women. Kilstein ramps up the jokes about male insecurity with the savagely funny How Not to Be a Dick: “Male Presidents have bombed the shit out of the Middle East and don’t have their periods as an excuse – they’re just fucking sociopaths.” The final track is the suspiciously low-key Maniac, possibly a spoof of PC hippie pop. Most comedy albums you hear once and that’s all you really need: this one stands up to repeated listening. It’s a good bet that Kilstein is twice as funny live.