Album Review: Jeff Rosenstock—’POST-‘
Posted: by The Editor
The ending of Never Get Tired: The Bomb the Music Industry! Story is a sad one. The 2015 documentary about Jeff Rosenstock’s revolutionary “collective,” and anti-label (Quote Unquote Records), concludes with tears and testimonies of what Rosenstock accomplished throughout his group’s eight-year run. It’s an inspiring story of defying the odds through relentless persistence, passion and gorilla glue-tier sticking to their proverbial guns. But it’s a tale that insinuates his legacy, despite being etched permanently into punk’s timeline, will go under-appreciated by those outside of his circle—specifically the music press, which is largely responsible for bestowing merit and building narratives for the artform’s historical figures.
A 2018 rewatch of this film—which leaves our 32-year-old hero depressed, anxious and terrified about the total uncertainty of his future—completely transforms the somber tone of its final minutes into just another obstacle that Rosenstock conquered throughout his career, which is currently in its third and most flourishing leg yet.
Since rebranding eponymously with 2012’s cult-adored I Look Like Shit, he signed to SideOneDummy Records and released the two best albums of his entire catalog, We Cool? (2015) and WORRY. (2016). The latter is his inarguable masterpiece, which received unanimously high critical praise (e.g. an 8.0 Pitchfork score, love from The Needle Drop, an AOTY slot from USA Today, of all places) and lifted him back up to, and eventually past, the level of notoriety that Bomb had at its peak.
The history of Rosenstock’s, by all accounts, unconventional and cinematically underdog career is important background information to have while listening to POST-, an album about resisting tyranny with nothing but sheer spirit. It’s that spirit to push back against overwhelming adversity that got Rosenstock to where he is now, and without providing any clear directives (how could he?), he aims to translate that vigor into something that could contend with the current reign of pseudo-conservative fascism.
However, POST- isn’t a protest album in the traditional sense—that is, a musical assault on a specific oppressor. It’s more of a protest fatigue album, a record about the emotions surrounding the activism that we’ve been obligated to engage in since the election, and the resulting exhaustion of a battle that only seems to worsen and has no end in sight. Songs like “Yr Throat” and “Powerlessness” are about the underwhelming days that follow a momentous march that shuts down entire streets, and the inevitable discouragement of realizing your life feels the same as it did prior to those inspirational speeches and colossal cheers; the bad guys are still winning, and your voice seems even more insignificant now than it did before.
In that sense, POST- feels like not only the most authentic, but the most relatable record to spawn from Trump’s first year in office. Rosenstock blatantly addresses the universal demoralization and mental debilitation that many of us have been hesitant to confront, based on our ethical duties to at least appear to be committed to resisting the daily acts of despotism. That everyman approach to songwriting has always been his appeal (the inventory of pre-election anxieties and millennial burdens to bear that is WORRY. being his prime example) and that continued groundedness on POST- demonstrates that the older and more popular he gets, the more in touch with his audience he becomes.
Perhaps the most human testaments to his confessions of hopelessness are the songs on POST- where he’s not singing about dissent at all, but rather the abjection that now seems to encompass every aspect of his life. “All This Useless Energy,” “9/10,” “Melba” and “TV Stars” each recount the persistent malaise that translates into sleeplessness and bitterness toward the things you love. “I’m worried of abandoning / the joys that framed my life,” he sings in “Energy.” “Tired of feeling selfish / tired of feeling restless / tired of feeling down,” he practically speaks on the excellently moody ballad, “9/10.”
Thankfully, in glorious contrast to these very real flirtations with accepting defeat, POST- is bookended by two anthems of resilience that serve as vital reminders that we can’t give up. Opener “USA” begins with the catchphrase of 2017, “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected,” and ends up closing with an ironically exuberant chant of the words, “We’re tired and bored.” Once again, it’s all spirit, as Rosenstock, just like the rest of us, is frustrated with the failings of strategy (debate, facts, basic human decency, etc.) and is now running on a mere instinctual commitment to his ethos.
“Let Them Win,” the record’s misleadingly 11-minute closer (it’s a six-minute song conjoined with a five-minute ambient outro), is a sonic heimlich maneuver, a dynamic hacking of the voice that he earlier lamented was stuck inside his throat. “They can steal our slice / for the hundredth time / judge us when we cry / and never empathize / with anyone but themselves,” he belts declaratively during its second verse. “We’re not gonna let them win / They’re not gonna win / They’re not gonna win / again / again / again / again.”
These proclamations are musically fashioned in a way that could soundtrack a caricatured, superhero-style standoff between a band of bat-wielding rebels and the suited abusers of power that hold office. And in this fantasy, thanks to Rosenstock’s charismatic performance, the state comes crashing down in marvelous syncopation with the sinewy guitar solo and thunderous “woah-oh”’s. It’s nothing less than epic, but once again, it doesn’t provide any instructions for how to actually carry out this overthrowing.
Perhaps that’s what the curiously long, vaguely uplifting synth outro is there for. As background music to abet discussion, both intra and interpersonally, among his listeners after delivering them an entire pep rally in the form of a six-minute rock song. POST- is a much-needed dose of reassurance after a harrowing first quarter, which makes it feel like the most important record to hear since, well, WORRY. In what ultimately sounds like nothing more than honest attempts at self-encouragement, Jeff Rosenstock has accidentally become one of this generation’s most universally reliable cheerleaders.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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