By Clayton Ambrose
Artist: Jeff Rosenstock
Release Date: January 1, 2018
Label: Polyvinyl/Quote Unquote Records
Hot on the heels of disaster, rock music legend Jeff Rosenstock has decided to get at it early and ensure that at least the beginning of the year will bear positive fruits. With no press tour, no announcement, and no singles, Rosenstock’s third solo album POST- dropped on the first of the year, along with the announcement of his signing to indie powerhouse label Polyvinyl, to get us kicked off on the right foot. Reduced in lyrical scope from 2016’s excellent Worry, POST- is another exploration of Rosenstock’s inner torment and anxiety over his usual and perhaps misleading power pop mastery. With this album he adds another hit to his long, long history of quality records, while still evolving and keeping it fresh after all these years.
Immediately the album kicks off with the immense “USA”, which might be an unfamiliar sight to long time listeners of Rosenstock due to its seven-minute runtime. The sounds, however, will not cause any further dissonance to fans, as the song wastes no time getting into the aggressive rock sound that Rosenstock has spent the better part of a decade-plus honing and perfecting. “USA” continues the prevailing political anxiety found on its preceding album Worry, this time acting as a reaction to the events of the past year that Worry seemed to predict so adeptly. On the chorus, a weary Rosenstock pleads, “Please be honest/tell me was it you?” to a gas station clerk and a man with a decal on his vehicle depicting his family smiling, mirroring the general distrust that many have felt when thrust into a situation where the familiar faces and people you once knew have suddenly become untrustworthy in this political climate. After a couple of choruses the bridge explodes into soaring vocals, with Rosenstock yelling “Well you promised us the stars/And now we’re tired and bored” before repeating the latter lyric as the music descends into a soft and dreamy synth interlude. All of this leads into a build-up that brings the song to its conclusion of gang vocals recalling Julius Caesar’s betrayal to properly convey the experience of feeling deceived by your country: “Et tu USA?”. This song is one of Rosenstock’s most daring structurally and it pays off in dividends, also making it one of the best in his catalogue.
That being said, the album’s structure is similar to a bookshelf, with massive bookends (“USA” and “Let Them Win”, the latter of which I’ll come to later) that guard the familiar titles in between. In the journey from one end to the other, POST- is filled with vintage Rosenstock songwriting, especially lyrically, which may disappoint some listeners who are eager to revisit the span of social issues that was covered in Worry. POST-, like most of Rosenstock’s works before, is deeply and bluntly personal, with seven out of nine songs dealing with his feelings of defeat and constant low self-esteem. This is especially prevalent in the three song stretch of “Yr Throat”, “All This Useless Energy”, and “Powerlessness”, which all deal with the concept of seeing your efforts as futile, which, like in “USA”, is a common sentiment in this new American climate. All of this is accompanied by the expected fuzzy and anthemic instrumentals that display Rosenstock’s impeccable and tenured songwriting talent.
These feelings continue onto “TV Stars”, a song infused with balladry that has Rosenstock lamenting the sobering reality of the artist/consumer relationship in a chorus of “TV stars don’t care about who you are”. Once again he picks up the pace on “Melba”, a song about escapism through the rose-colored glasses of the past and discovering that maybe the past isn’t as wonderful as you remember. After short and simple “Beating My Head Against The Wall” comes the slow and saccharine ode to loneliness, “9/10”. On a synth-laden instrumental, Rosenstock bemoans the distance between him and the one he loves, claiming that “nine times out of ten I’ll be thinking of you” in the chorus. This song caps off the meditations on solitude and feelings of uselessness that preoccupy the majority of the album, which at this point might be verging on being an overbearing bummer to some listeners.
But then, after all the self-effacing and downtrodden words have gone by, a spark jumps out of the dark. Rosenstock, beaten and bruised, comes in with the auditory brass knuckles of “Let Them Win”, the album’s 11-minute (!) closer. With a sluggish and browbeating rhythm, Rosenstock stands up to the microphone and, after all the turmoil and tragedy of the rumble that was 2017, lets his aggressors know that “We’re not gonna let them win”. The positioning of this song as the closer is cathartic, which is common in a lot of Rosenstock’s previous albums, dating back to his days in his previous band, Bomb The Music Industry!. This running theme of coming back when life’s got you on the ropes has never been more relevant than now, because now, as shown in the sloppy and punchy nature of the song, there’s a real, honest-to-god brawl on Rosentock’s hands. After the song explodes for its final and fitting line “F**k no”, however, the song descends into a short acoustic interlude before finishing with a six-minute-long ambient outro. At the very end of this tumultuous ride, there’s peace and tranquility in the face of overwhelming opposition. It almost makes the rest of the album seem like a lengthy exorcism of demons to take off the proverbial shackles before facing the enemy at the gates, which is sound advice for anyone gearing up to avenge 2017’s mistakes.
All in all, this is Rosenstock once again at peak performance that, if trends continue, might meet with peak popularity. POST- is not as diverse as Worry’s social commentary and genre hopping, but as he’s shown time and time again, Rosenstock only needs the strength of his songwriting to craft emotive and consistent power-pop classics. Even with those familiar notes, Rosenstock still leaves room to innovate, producing two of the most bold songs in his career in “USA” and “Let Them Win” on top of the sounds and structures we’ve come to know and love. At this point, what is there left to say? Jeff Rosenstock was, is, and always will be, Jeff Rosenstock.