Before Their Time: Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse

I grew up in a small town. We had churches, schools, an Elks Lodge, a library, and a post office. Because it was New Jersey we also had a diner, a bagel shop, and the best damn pizza place in the Tri-State Area. (Technically we had two pizza places, but the other one left a lot to be desired.) We were the sort of good wholesome God-fearing small town politicians invoke in TV spots modeled on Norman Rockwell posters.

We also had a lot of bars.

Small towns are like theme parks: The conceit only works if everyone stays in character. But everyone can’t stay in character all the time. That’s why theme parks have break rooms, small towns have bars, and pop music has Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse.

Or at least, it used to.

You’ve got red on you.

Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse (henceforth JHC&TFHOTA) was an eight-piece band, half brass (The Four Hornsmen) and all chutzpah. JHC&TFHOTA exploded the fictions of modern adulthood and postmodern America, announcing everything we never say and broadcasting every thought we’ve ever been afraid to think. The resulting songs tackled everything from social media (“Vanity Surfin’”) to breakups (“I Hope You’re Happy,” “I Miss Your Arm”) to suburban ennui (“Connecticut’s for F*cking,” “Alcoholics in My Town”) with a deadpan matter-of-factness worthy of Daria. That sounds brutal, but every number was set against a jaunty pop tune that might have wandered out of a good wholesome American sock hop. It’s nearly impossible not to bop cheerfully to “Happy Me,” an ode to pharmaceutical joy, and I dare you to resist the urge to do the Batusi to the upbeat sex work stylings of “Vicki Is a Pro.”

Every JHC&TFHOTA song is an anthem to unspoken truths, balancing wicked schadenfreude against consuming neuroses, exposing the insecurities that underlie our comfortable judgements. “Alcoholics In My Town” holds a special place in my heart: An ode to the day drinking that takes the edge off middle age, it explains why my hometown has more bars per capita than the entire state of South Dakota. It’s followed closely by “I Hope You’re Happy” and “It’s OK in the USA”; the former pokes at the aftermath of romance and the latter – well, let’s just say the past year and a half have increased my appreciation for and ambivalence about “It’s OK in the USA.”

“Alcoholics” is one of the last songs on the band’s second and final album. JHC&TFHOTA hasn’t released anything since 2008, and it’s not clear why they broke up, or whether they broke up at all. Most likely everyone decided they’d done what they came to do and it was time to return to their respective individual careers – but nevertheless the track leaves me wondering what might have been, what other unacknowledged depths JHC&TFHOTA might have plumbed in our collective psyche. Maybe it’s just as well: After the year we’ve had, are we even ready to hear everything they couldn’t bring themselves to say?

HOW TO LISTEN: JHC&TFHOTA’s complete discography is streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud and available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

MUST HEAR: “Alcoholics in My Town” will make you reevaluate your neighbors, and possibly yourself.

FAVORITE LINES: “Connecticut’s for fucking./There’s nothing else to do./I wanna listen to classic rock and have sex with you.”

“It’s OK to be rude/It’s OK to be dense/OK to shoot if it’s in self-defense/And if you write strippers off as a business expense, it’s OK/It’s OK/In the USA”

“Just like a stripper needs a pole/You’ve gotta have a goal./Like a football needs a team/You’ve gotta have a dream”

“I hope you’re happy./I hope you’re where you want to be./I hope you’re happy/Just not happier than me.”

“That’s Debbie’s father/He’s really cool/Last summer he backed his riding mower/Into the swimming pool./He keeps a keg in his basement./And we drink there after school.”

PAIR WITH: All the booze, ex-stalking, and existential despair you can cram into your liver before you pass out.

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