Jeff Rosenstock takes a directly political stance, with touches of growing pains, on the punk’s strong start to 2018.
While Jeff Rosenstock primarily occupies the punk scene, he’s a pioneer in the music world in general. Besides maybe Fugazi[i], Rosenstock is the most successful DIY musician. He was releasing music for a pay-what-you-want rate two years before Radiohead. Worry made Rosenstock into a punk favorite and critical darling with its electronic, folk, power-pop, and ska influences.[ii] His signing to SideOneDummy Records hasn’t compromised his beliefs at all. On New Year’s Day, Rosenstock released his third solo album POST-, unannounced and free. It’s 40 minutes of pure punk with a touch of Rosenstock’s signature self-aware lyricism and expansion of the form.
Following the ambitious Worry, Rosenstock doesn’t screw around on Post-. For the most part, the songs are straightforward punk. Worry was like a Kanye West record in its unpredictability, Post- bares more resemblance to Green Day in that it’s ambitious within its own confines. Songs like “Yr Throat” or “Beating My Head Against a Wall” are pretty straightforward pop-punk that perform within well-established traditions of self-deprecation and antiestablishment principals. Even songs that aren’t brashly straightforward still perform in a punk tradition, “9/10” and “TV Stars” are both pretty excellent power-ballads that keep self-destructive and self-aware tendencies in the forefront, over much more delicately strummed guitars or piano-driven tracks. The lengthier “USA” and “Let Them Win” are also pretty straightforward punk tracks, with the former sounding like it could’ve come off American Idiot and the latter sounding like a Titus Andronicus epic. Even though they’re longer, they still mostly work within the confines of distorted power-chords, gang-vocals, and scathing criticisms of the government. Each have these lengthy synth breakdowns, which are nice, but don’t really bring much to the track, perhaps when the time comes to perform these live, Rosenstock will take these as opportunities to talk to the audience.
Perhaps the best way to describe these songs from a lyrical point of view is that it’s largely comprised of political criticism, interspersed with love songs. “USA” sets this mood, by asking every person in the United States if they’ll take responsibility for our current presidential predicament. He calls on us all in the final refrain of “Et tu USA,” stabbed in the back by our own. “Yr Throat” is an intense critique of those who tend to stay quiet when they see something’s wrong:
If you’re a piece of shit, they don’t let you go
What’s the point of having a voice?
What’s the point of having a voice?
When it gets stuck inside your throat.
“Beating My Head Against A Wall” is instantly relatable to anyone who’s tried to prove (or disprove) a political point with family at Thanksgiving and knows it’s as frustrating as the title suggests. The closing song is a uniting and anthemic song that vows “We’re not gonna let them win again.” It’s impossible to not read this as reactionary to the 2016 election and what’s been happening in Washington over the past year. As Rosenstock sings,
They can make us feel afraid
And try to turn it into hate,
They can steal our slice
For the hundredth time
Judge us when we cry
And never empathize
With anyone but themselves
It sounds heartbroken, but determined to keep fighting.
Even though Post- is a scathing political masterpiece, Rosenstock does have his more tender moments. “Melba” and “Powerlessness” are both intensive personal narratives about feeling nostalgic for a certain town once visited and social anxiety respectively. “TV Stars” is a personal song where Rosenstock discusses either a breakup or simply being away from a lover, while falling asleep to separate apathetic TV shows. He still pokes fun at himself though:
I can’t play piano all that well
Like, I’m fine
I can get away with it.
If I’m acting like I’m drunk on stage
And you’re shocked that I’m playing anything
I’ll get away with it.
The most touching moment though is in the penultimate song “9/10.” In the same vein as The Menzingers’ “Your Wild Years” from last year, it’s a song about unsteadily shaking into the landing of adulthood and finding a suitable romantic partner. It’s oddly charming how the chorus just resolves with “Nine times out of ten, I’ll be thinking of you.” Jeff Rosenstock sets a high bar for the rest of the year. Post- is both incredibly personal and gracefully confrontational. It doesn’t ride on replicating the ambition of its predecessor; it stays simple to get its message across.
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photo © Jeff Rosenstock