Album Review: Jeff Rosenstock – “NO DREAM”

Posted: by The Editor

When Jeff Rosenstock released his previous record, Post-, on the first day of 2018, life was bleak. Many Americans were distraught over residing in an injustice-ridden nation led by someone bereft of empathy. Rosenstock’s latest record, No Dream, comes during a time in which things are somehow even worse. We’ve realized that the next president will more than likely be someone who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, and we’re in the thick of a pandemic that’s being exacerbated by politicians who won’t prioritize keeping people alive.

The album aptly reflects how petrified and uneasy we all are right now, as well as how impatient we’ve become for change. The title track, which sounds like an AJJ song for the first half and a Dead Kennedys song for the second, makes the argument that building a more equitable society that prioritizes ethics and morals requires a thorough upheaval. Life as we know it, even if we may be accustomed to it by now, is not adequate: “the only framework capitalism can thrive in is dystopia.” It also acknowledges that enacting this sort of reform is a long shot because it necessitates a large number of people being on board, which is succinctly captured in the song’s question “What can we do?”

The album is underscored by relentless, chronic anxiety that frequently intertwines with self-loathing. Rosenstock excels in self-awareness, even when it’s closer to harsh realizations than quirky self-deprecation. He’s honest with himself even when doing so can elicit shame. Take “The Beauty of Breathing,” for example, in which he states that he could take steps towards self-improvement, but is too fatigued to do so. “Nikes (Alt)” narrates the doomed pastime of making frivolous purchases to stave off sadness. Consumerism might feel foreign coming from someone who, in the inception of his career, didn’t even want to charge people for his music. He knows: he provides the synopsis “status symbol shit that I say I’m above” for this expenditure.

This frankness often becomes harsh self-critique; Rosenstock calls himself a narcissist and a hypocrite. On “Monday at the Beach,” he ponders if he’s even worthy of a fun day trip: “I don’t know if I deserve to go.”

The album’s sound parallels the lyrical themes, feeling just as rapid as the frenzied thoughts that bounce around in an anxious brain. Jeff Rosenstock – in the proud tradition of punk – has never made very polished music, but this album sounds especially unhinged. Post- was brash, but there were pockets of tranquility throughout. This release is much more jittery and spiky, with riffs that shake and skitter and stumble. The band didn’t carefully stitch together seamless endings for many of these tracks; a couple of them don’t even bother to reach the one-minute mark. “f a m e” and “Ohio tpke” both culminate anthemically, and “Scram” finishes with a sputtering breakdown.

No Dream, like Post-, was a surprise release, dropped without fanfare or buildup. But what’s also surprising is how many topics it toggles between, and how well it articulates all of it. It handles unrequited love with just as much tact and conviction as it does bigotry. It reminds us that, even when disheartening times are out of your control, your reaction to them is something that can still be molded.


Bineet Kaur | @hellobineet

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