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Jeff Rosenstock brings anxious but hopeful punk on ‘POST-‘

| Friday, January 19, 2018

Dominique DeMoe

Jeff Rosenstock might be the oldest millennial alive, but his anxiety-driven punk attitude makes me feel like I’m 16 again — shockingly, perhaps, that’s a high compliment.

He has the ability to switch almost flippantly between sheer passion and excitement and overwhelming, perhaps even crippling anxiety and fear that can be hard to replicate outside of your teens. His newest album, “POST-,” nails those emotional fluctuations, but with a political edge.  

There are no explicit references to what we are “POST-,” but that doesn’t mean Rosenstock is especially subtle in his treatment of the 2016 election. His last album, “WORRY,” was released a month before the 2016 election and, in retrospect, sounds like a grim prediction of things to come. “POST-,” entirely recorded in less than 90 hours and released on New Year’s Day without promotion, further extends on that last album, now that it seems all those anxieties have actually come to fruition. The result is a very DIY punk sound: rarely clean-cut, always raw. At points on the album, this sound inevitably skews more toward sloppy, but it isn’t nearly enough to ruin the listening experience.

“POST-” is a strange album, opening with the seven-minute “USA,” which bounces between power pop and synth-driven ambient interludes before a rallying gang vocal coda of “We’re tired and bored” and ends with “Let Them Win,” an 11-minute ordeal of a track that changes from a final call against the technically unnamed “them” who “Can make us feel afraid / And try to turn it into hate” before ending on a buzzy guitar solo halfway through and melting into a very long synthesizer drone.

“Let Them Win” seems to reiterate many of the themes presented in “USA,” but Rosenstock’s singing has an entirely different energy. In “USA,” he’s not just angry, he’s “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected / Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted.” But as the album prepares to close, he sounds, well, a little “tired and bored.”

That’s not a criticism of his performance, but rather is evidence of his ability to read the room and capture the mood of many Americans post-election. Many of them are angry and ready to rally, but there are still times where even in the wake of it all, the sheer amount of material to be outraged at is numbing and doesn’t — can’t — render the same reaction it did even a few months ago. Outrage, even if completely warranted, becomes a bit performative out of necessity. Even the song title suggests “Let them win,” even if it’s as in “Never going to.” It’s hopeful, but there is still a nihilistic quality that underlines the song. Parsing out whether he is genuinely hopeful or defeatist is unclear with lyrics like “They can steal our slice / For the hundredth time” and “They’re not going to win / Again,” because he clearly acknowledges how successful “they” have been before.

Between the weighty tracks that bookend the album, Rosenstock makes more explicit references to President Donald Trump, singing “After the tape leaked / I searched for answers” in reference to the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape and then being dismayed that “It’s not like any other job I know / If you’re a piece of s— they don’t let you go” in “Yr Throat.” In the piano ballad “TV Stars” he croons “TV stars don’t care about who you are.”

Rosenstock’s own mental health is also documented throughout, especially in “Powerlessness,” as he notes “This just dawned on me: / I haven’t spoken to another person in a week.” The song is frantic and jittery, as he obsessively checks his phone and even compares himself to a nervous kid. “All This Useless Energy” and “Beating My Head Against A Wall” are similarly anxious, though perhaps less frenzied, as he further explores the feeling of crushing futility against something so huge it seems unbeatable.

“POST-” is not just an album about Trump. Rosenstock is no fan or friend of him, but he seems far more concerned with and disappointed by the people surrounding him — especially with his use of “they” and “them,” rather than “he” and “him.” As the album closes, the feelings are still messy and perhaps some part of his will is broken, or at least a little banged up, but there’s a huge shift in “Let Them Win,” and he begins to speak as “we.”


Artist: Jeff Rosenstock

Album: POST-

Label: Polyvinyl

Favorite Tracks: “USA,” “Powerlessness,” “TV Stars,” “Let Them Win”

If you like: AJJ, Bomb the Music Industry!, Pinegrove, PUP

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley was Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. She majored in English and the Program of Liberal Studies and hailed from Flushing, Michigan.

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