Review Summary: An eclectic, frenetic, and accessible collection of pop punk songs that continues in the path carved out by its predecessor, Worry.
I always find it amusing, if a bit obnoxious, when people declare a genre of music “dead.” I think genres and the categorification of music is useful, at least up to a point. But at the end of the day music is so fluid and so many bands mix styles so often that genres are more loose guidelines than strict, well-defined categories. It doesn’t really make sense to me to say a particular genre is dead because genres continually evolve and adapt. My favorite example of this is a recent trend I’ve noticed of people saying pop punk is dead (to be fair, by “recent trend” I mean people in the comment sections of old blink-182 and Sum 41 music videos on YouTube). The reason this example is so entertaining to me is that when pop punk started gaining prominence in the late 90s and early 00s, many considered it to be the death knell for “real” punk music (which of course is wrong and lazy). Anyway, the point of all this morose genre talk is that despite what YouTube commenters say, neither punk nor pop punk is dead, and Jeff Rosenstock continues to prove this fact with his 2018 album POST-.
A surprise release on New Years Day 2018 (I’m somewhat behind with this review...) and dealing with “losing hope in your country, yourself, and those around you,” POST- picks up where 2016’s Worry. left off: another collection of tight, socially conscious pop punk tunes. POST- isn’t quite as ambitious, or as impactful, as its predecessor, but Rosenstock continues to prove that the poppy side of punk is alive and kicking, and that it can be a genre very much worth listening to (and he continues to release albums whose titles end with some sort of punctuation mark).
After the brief spoken word track “Mornin’!” the album starts with the firecracker that is “USA.” The seven-and-a-half-minute song demonstrates one of Jeff’s strengths as a songwriter: his knack for somehow being both political and personal at the same time. The song is frenetic, frustrated, and overall confused, clearly the product trying to make sense of what’s going on in the world around him. It's certainly political and wide in scope, but it's also focused on the effects and feelings those political topics have on Rosenstock, and his own outlook on them. This sets the album’s mood and defines its theme right off the bat. After a quiet, lengthy bridge the song bursts into a crescendo of the chorus “We’re tired and bored.” Despite the connotations of that line, its hard not to be energized when the song finishes, and that energy transitions seamlessly into the next track, “Yr Throat,” which is driven in large part by frantic drumming of Kevin Higuchi, who together with bassist John DeDomenici form one of the best rhythm sections around (they call to mind the work Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool in Dookie-era Green Day).
My personal favorite track is “Powerlessness.” I love the use of an acoustic guitar in such a fast-paced song, with the electric coming in for accents halfway through the first verse before thundering into the forefront in the chorus. The sentiment of the song is pretty easy to relate to: “How can you solve all the problems around you/when you can’t even solve the ones in your head"” The political, national, and global problems we all face can feel insurmountable, especially given how hard it can be to get out of bed some days. It’s easier to isolate ourselves, going weeks at a time without having meaningful conversations. Knowing how universal these fears are helps us take the first steps towards moving past them.
The song is followed up by “TV Stars,” one of the albums slower songs, and one of the weaker tracks. It serves the same role as “Beers Again Alone” on We Cool" or “To Be a Ghost…” on Worry., but this track just doesn’t feel as memorable to me. It’s certainly not without its moments though, the line “It feels like somebody traded out my skin/for something I could never feel good in” is a pretty classic Rosenstock lyric. It highlights another of his lyrical strengths: reading that line it feels like it should be easy to write, but I’ll be damned if I could ever write anything a simple, yet universal, as that. Jeff makes it look easy and delivers lines like that all the time, and he always has (even going back to his Bomb the Music Industry! Days). After this track come the back-to-back bangers “Melba” and “Beating My Head Against a Wall.” Nowhere else on the album is the “pop” part of pop punk more strongly felt than these two tracks, and they kick ass. Both have huge choruses, and I dare you to listen to either one without getting it stuck in your head afterwards.
Penultimate track “9/10” is probably the albums best track. I love the emphasis on the keyboard, with the guitar taking a backseat (at least until the excellent solo). That approach is similar to “Nausea” (from We Cool"), but the feel of the song is totally different. “9/10” is slow, introspective, and melancholy. The image of Rosenstock wandering around aimlessly on the subway is the perfect one for this album. The sound is distinct from anything else on the album, and yet still is recognizably “Jeff Rosenstock.” Doing something different while still making it your own isn’t easy to do, especially for an artist that’s been active as long as Jeff.
The album closes with “Let Them Win,” a bare-bones, punch-in-the-lip of a track. Given the albums overall theme of feeling lost, hopeless, and powerless, this song closes things off in an energized, more optimistic manner. I love how stripped down and straight-forward the track is, it feels human and vulnerable while also being confident. However, I’m personally not a fan of the extended outro. Maybe I’m impatient for not always sticking with the atmospheric keyboards of the outro, and I’m sure they serve a purpose (creating a hopeful tone for the album to end on"), but five minutes just kind of feels like a lot for that sort of thing. This album is only forty minutes long, and it just seems weird for an eight of it to be spent in that way. I don’t mind slowing things down sometimes, the middle section of “USA” has a similar feel, but there it just seems to fit in the context of the song. It feels less like dawdling. Nonetheless, “Let Them Win” is still a fitting closer for the album.
All in all, this album doesn’t eclipse Rosenstock’s previous Worry. It’s a little less coherent, a little less focused. However, it is still a diverse, accessible, and well executed set of songs. As long as Jeff Rosenstock is out there, top-notch pop punk music isn’t going anywhere.