Review Summary: We're always cool, Jeff.
When Bomb the Music Industry! disbanded in 2014 following nearly a decade of giving away their music for free and redefining the DIY punk ethic, many wondered what would happen to Jeff Rosenstock. As the group’s creator, songwriter, producer and frontman, Rosenstock was the driving force behind the Long Island collective’s success, starting the self-professed “very first donation-based record label” and gaining a huge following with it. Although he initially became known for the ska-punk of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and the first few Bomb the Music Industry! records, his sound has drifted away from his origins and more towards indie rock and power pop.
sounds like the album that Bomb the Music Industry! would have made after Vacation
. Simply put, it’s the next logical step in progression following their 2011 swan song. There’s a fair deal of experimentation, including the alt-country of “Beers Again Alone” and the harmonica ballad “All Blissed Out”. However, during other parts of the record Jeff just sticks to what he knows well, and in the process creates some of the best songs he’s ever written. Energy was the primary foundation behind Bomb the Music Industry!, and the frenetic, speedy pace of tracks like “You, in Weird Cities” and “Hey Allison!” are filled with the same wild spirit that he’s rocked for the past ten years. The former is without a doubt, the standout song from the album. It’s definitely one of the fastest here, and the guitarwork is spectacular, especially the solo at the end. It’s Jeff that steals the show, though, as his boisterous vocals are what drives the tune. “You laughing with me getting lost in weird cities, ‘cause we’ll never go back, we’ll never go back”, he cries, and every word that he says comes off as incredibly genuine and passionate. This is a love letter to that one person who can always bring sunshine into a cloudy day, and he sells it.
Lyrically, We Cool?
deals with some pretty depressing and poignant subject matter despite the bright and upbeat instrumentation. Whether it’s the death of a loved one or the constant nights getting drunk at home alone, the hefty topics discussed are cancelled out by the overall vibrant mood. “Nausea” features a fun, sing-along chorus with piano and handclaps backed by lines like “I’ve started avoiding the people I love / Evenings of silence and mornings of nausea, shake and sweat and I can’t throw up”. It’s so easy to get lost in the anthemic energy and not realize just how pensive Jeff can be. Despite being only 32, several lyrics are reminiscent of a midlife crisis-like struggle; “Polar Bear or Africa” discusses his fears of people forgetting him after his death, while “Hall of Fame” is about the realization that even friends are willing to watch you crash and burn. Bomb the Music Industry! certainly contained their fair share of downer lines, and We Cool?
for the most part is the continuation of that.
With that said, there are still a few shortcomings that knock down this album a few notches. “Novelty Sweater” definitely could have toned down the Weezer worship just a little bit, and “All Blissed Out” is an experiment that just doesn’t quite work as well as it should. Then again, there’s plenty of greatness to neutralize the mistakes. We Cool?
flows amazingly well, with the tracklisting running almost flawlessly. Every song is placed in a spot that would bring out the most of it, and there’s never a stretch that feels either overly samey-sounding or weak. Whenever Jeff sings, you can hear the emotion in his voice, and at times it’s even pretty cathartic (see: the sudden explosion in sound on “Get Old Forever”).
All in all, though, We Cool?
shows that Jeff knows exactly what kind of musical path he’s taking, and it’s one that perfectly fits the place he is. This is a varied album, with styles ranging from country to power pop to punk to alt-rock, but it still feels like a continuation of the Bomb the Music Industry! sound with some new flavors thrown into it. At this point in his career, songs like “You, in Weird Cities” or “Polar Bear or Africa” are exactly what he needs to make in order to establish himself as a credible solo artist free from the chains of the BTMI name. Jeff is still the same charismatic, personality-filled man he was when he fronted his old bands, and this album proves that he has what it takes to continue making quality music on his own.