Review Summary: Jeff Rosen-stock music
Jeff Rosenstock doesn’t have much to prove. He has fought tooth and nail to become a scene legend using ska -the most uncool genre- as a backdrop for a career playing smaller venues with cheaper tickets to accommodate audiences of all ages. Ask five different people what their favorite album is that he had a hand in and it would not be surprising to hear five different answers. It would, however, be surprising for one of those to be Hellmode
, the forty-year old’s latest that takes on a challenge that is just as difficult as the title implies: making a punk-ish
album in your forties.
isn’t bad by any stretch, but it plays like an album desperately clawing for a new angle, a new point of view, a new..anything
, and it ultimately comes up empty. The group vocal shouts, anti-late capitalism ennui, self-aware self-loathing, and tumblr dictionary using words like shi
tlords are all here and well, but it all seems a little rote and well-worn when compared to the full-throated, expansive masterpieces like Worry.
. It’s a collection of songs rather than a unified statement.
“WILL U STILL U” is a chaotic mess of an opener that desperately wants to be another anthem, but the blast beats and tremolo picking into a xylophone-tinged comedown can’t help me checking my watch instead of my pulse. The second-half of the record falters in particular with Jeff taking his foot off the gas. Starting with “HEALMODE,” a complete nothing-burger, change-of-pace ballad that takes notes from Jeff’s Neil Young covers EP without really reverse-engineering any of the magic. “LIFE ADMIN” and “I WANNA BE WRONG” are definitely two songs that exist.
That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments though. “Head” is the sort of Bomb the Music Industry! that should be an obvious trick at this point in his career, but still pleasantly surprising in its solid execution. “Doubt” is the record’s best song, even if it takes a little bit to get going. Starting off with a melody that borders on self-parody, the song evolves into a hardrocking mission statement for the whole album as Jeff barks “you gotta chill out with the doubt” over some genuinely electrifying feedback, briefly defibrillating Hellmode
to life. ”3 Summers” is the most ambitious song on the record, standing uncharacteristically tall at over seven minutes in length, and ends things on a fairly high note of blessed out distortion, gang vocals, and daydream lyrics, even if the melodies themselves aren’t particularly noteworthy.
Ultimately, not being particularly noteworthy is where Hellmode
lands. It’s a little tired, a little old, but still fine. It's a low barrier of entry album that will probably play better the less you’ve heard the rest of his legendary discography. Jeff Rosenstock failing to clear the incredibly high bar he’s set for himself only further solidifies how high he’s always aimed.