Review Summary: If you don't die young, you're gonna live too long.
Jeff Rosenstock's baby, Bomb the Music Industry!
, may or may not be done for good after soaring to stratospheric heights with their highly acclaimed 2011 release, Vacation
-which may or may not be the Tumblr generation's Pet Sounds
. On that album, BTMI! sounded arguably as huge as they ever could have, what with having string arrangements, carefully placed interludes, and slow-burning buildups which crashed into surprisingly effective crescendos. Despite its massive size, Rosenstock and company still managed to connect to their audience with some of the goofiest, most sincere lyrics ever in tales of failed drug deals, bike repair, and sitting next to strangers on an airplane. Almost impossibly, Vacation
was a celebration of life as twenty-something in the most honest way possible and it was a near-perfect note for the Bomb the Music Industry! moniker to go out on.
Make no mistake about it though, Jeff Rosenstock's accidental debut, I Look Like Sh*t
is the proper extension of BtMI!'s DIY aesthetics -he WAS always the man pulling the strings after all. However, unlike Vacation
, Rosenstock's solo outing offers very little hope and is actually pretty bleak. Hell, the man wasn't even going to release these songs for that very reason. Album opener, "Twinkle", sets the tone with Rosenstock 'singing' about being a shut-in and lost loves, all while seemingly being hellbent on breaking his voice through one of the most ridiculous uses of falsetto, well, ever. Hey, just because the album is dressed in black doesn't mean it can't have a little fun while doing so, right? In fact, I Look Like Sh*t
is loads of fun. The aforementioned "Twinkle" and album closer "I Don't Want to Die" bookend the album with as much excitement, energy, and goofiness as possible in the form of a piano power ballad and a J-rock cover respectively. "The Trash The Trash The Trash" manages to sneak in those bright "ooh's" that were more prominently featured on Vacation, while "80's Through the 50's" sounds like an approximation of a hundred old prom-ballads with a wink and a nudge.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, that's because it is. I Look Like Sh*t
is less a cohesive whole, and more a collection of b-sides, covers, and new material that was thrown together because, well, why not? There's a little bit of everything on here that one could expect from Rosenstock: acoustic anthems, punk, and even pop. Surprisingly, the album still turns out to be more than the sum of its parts and somehow sounds even more intimate than his past offerings thanks to his always oddly personal and poignant lyrics. He sings about his struggles to get snacks while taking a break from playing Zelda on New Year's Day on "Snow Charges", then takes a jab his own apathy and self-pity when singing "staying the same just makes everything change" on the following track, "80's Through the 50's". The album's bleakness comes not from sounding like a funeral procession, but feeling like one last bittersweet night out with childhood friends before everyone moves away to college and moves on with their lives -which is basically what "Bonus Oceans" is about anyway.
That being said, the penultimate track "Amen" is just about as close to a self-written eulogy that Rosenstock could have ever written. At nearly six-minutes in length, pretty much an epic by his standards, the moderately paced track has Rosenstock shouting about his lack of faith and tales of good people letting bad things happen. It's the only moment where [i]I Look Like Sh*t[i/] could veer off the road, hitting itself head-on with self-indulgent pity. It doesn't. Instead, the song is an aching sendoff for one of underground music's most important and fun figures. "Amen" also helps to give context and extra weight to hyper-energetic album closer and cover of a Ging Nang Boyz songe, "I Don't Want to Die", where Rosenstock screams just that with an almost hilarious amount of earnestness. It's a fitting and fun conclusion to an album that may have stayed a shade too dark for the majority of its running time.
There are a lot of things that make I Look Like Sh*t
an imperfect album -its haphazard nature, the fact that Jeff really can't actually sing, some of the songs are less memorable than others, fans who disliked Vacation probably won't enjoy this release as much either, and it's actually kind of depressing- but that doesn't stop it from being a highly enjoyable release from one of the most fun figures in underground music. The fact is, context or no context, this is a damn good album.