POST– never outright says what it’s following, even though the quickest glance through a lyric sheet could probably lead you to an obvious culprit. Within the first seven minutes or so, Jeff Rosenstock has already spat obtuse references to Middle America, media cycles and a wayward joke, seething with distrust, disappointment, and several other D-words before collapsing into good ol’ fashioned American boredom.
But in those same seven minutes, Rosenstock’s swung a hard reference to the Crickets-by-way-of-the-Clash, parleyed through jagged emo-inflected pop punk and sunk his opening track into post-punk-lite. To the cadence of “You promised us the stars and now we’re tired and bored,” the song drones, snakes into ambience and climaxes with pumped-fists and blaring guitars.
This is POST-, Jeff Rosenstock’s serrated punk a la carte sendoff to the early days of Trump’s America, where the longtime ska veteran and DIY connoisseur once again mines the spectrum of punk for another multi-faced meditation on American ennui.
If this doesn’t sound like fresh ground being broken, that’s because it isn’t; a lot of what’s said about POST– can be said about Rosenstock’s last album WORRY. Like POST-, WORRY. built itself around piecemeal genre excursions. But while WORRY. felt sharper and more direct, POST– sounds loftier. While only one song on WORRY. actually breaks the four minute mark, POST– is bookended by fully-parsed epics complete with their own ambient sections.
The immediacy that made WORRY. vital had an extra benefit, though: none of Rosenstock’s sharp turns there ever overstayed their welcome. Everything was brief enough that even its oddest twists, like “Rainbow’s” throwback to Rosenstock’s ska punk days on the Warped Tour, could maintain the album’s driving energy and feel novel.
It’s harder to say the same thing about POST-, which traded those bursts and sprints for more honest attempts at staying power. In some places, it works! The opening track described in this review, “USA,” is one of the best on the album. POST-‘s eleven minute closer, “Let Them Win,” is also pretty good, despite the five minutes of misplaced ambience tagged on as both the song’s and album’s final breaths.
Toward POST-‘s middle, though, things can be a little muddled.
In true Rosenstock fashion, the punchier songs with the bigger hooks are the ones that tend to stand out.
Power pop banger “Yr Throat” and the Weezer-copping “All This Useless Energy” are Rosenstock at his best. But once “Powerlessness” kicks off, songs start their inevitable slouch toward the album’s finale.
“Slouch” is maybe the wrong word for it, though. Each of the cuts on POST– are honestly good songs. Rosenstock sells them all with charisma, and there’s a sense of dynamic songcraft behind each of track that guarantees a song never ends where it started. But they’re not Rosenstock’s best, and each could probably use a solo shaved off here or a coda cut there. “TV Stars,” a swirling piano ballad near the album’s center, even breaks in half and shaves the excess off for you – before kicking off another full chorus-verse-chorus.
At the end of the day, POST– is another punchy Rosenstock ode to the dejected American youth that grew up and became dejected American adults. At times, POST– is a focused slog to the jaw, sometimes even more than the punch-drunk volleys of WORRY. It’s telling that the longer songs on the album are some of the best from a man who cut his teeth on the sugar high, punch-drunk rants of a Warped Tour ska band (not that longform dynamics could ever really be lost on a band as equally informed by Fugazi and shitty Radiohead covers as they are by Less Than Jake.)
It’s almost more telling that one of those tracks adds five minutes of entry-level ambience to justify its length. POST– is an album meant to feel cathartic in its frayed power pop – something summed up in “Let Them Win” and the battle cry at its core. But for every moment of sweet sweet grungey comfort, there’s a risk of overdose. And on POST-, Rosenstock sometimes does just that.
All punk rockers must die young or become old. One of these options is sexy and cool and one of these options is boring and lame.
Lucky for us, we are now 20 years removed from the 90s. This means we get to live through all the not-cool albums that these not-cool old punk rockers are making because they didn’t die yet.
Jeff Rosenstock, formerly of Bomb the Music Industry!, is an old (at least by punk rock standards). He is still putting out music. Rosenstock is doing the bad thing and trying to make punk rock records about politics despite the fact that he seems completely distanced from everything he’s talking about. He is no longer embroiled in these subjects the way he might have theoretically been in the past. Here he sounds like an NPR listener, a NY Times reader. Someone observing things and throwing his hands up, not someone actually involved in the things he is singing about. There is an odd distance and haze to everything Rosenstock covers on POST-. The result is a political missive that is less coherent and engaging than the stuff that guy you went to highschool with who really likes bowhunting writes about on facebook. The music is catchy.
This is all encapsulated in the first song, “USA,” a stunning example of boneheaded political songwriting. This is the album’s centerpiece. It is 7 and a half minutes long and it twists and turns and it has group chanting and build-ups and break-downs and pizazz. It describes Rosenstock’s feelings of entrapment and confusion regarding the last presidential election. It goes about this in the most confounding way imaginable. It does so in a way that paints Rosenstock as the enemy.
Rosenstock uses this song to lash out. This is a punk rock thing to do! But he lashes out in the way a toddler would lash out, without a clear target or with a clear reason or with any real goal in mind other than to lash (one could argue that this is also a punk rock thing to do). He lashes out at the people in the car next to him on the highway. He won’t hate them! But he needs to know who they voted for. As if the problem in Rosenstock’s life isn’t any of the bad things currently happening, it’s who some schmuck on the highway voted for a year and a half ago.
He also blames the media, and the law, and the clerk at the gas station(?). He’s doing a lot of blaming in this song. And then, after interrogating random people on the street, he ends the song by chanting “we’re tired, we’re bored” and “et tu, USA.” You could at this point perhaps surmise that Jeff Rosenstock is in fact 14 and not 35, but it’s not true! This is a grown man chanting “et tu, USA” because, again, the car on the highway next to him might have voted for the man he didn’t want to win the election.
Coming from a man who led a band named “Bomb the Music Industry!”(with exclamation mark included), you would think his music would include a few more directives or suggestions instead of endless complaining.
Sadly, this is not the case.
Here’s the thing though, Rosenstock. I’m with ya pal. I feel betrayed too! But the things you are singing about in this song could not matter less. This song is negatively useful to someone other than to put them down for something that they probably also feel betrayed by. Where is the solidarity in this song? I live in the middle of Trump Country and these people you are interrogating in this song are also angry. These people are working two jobs and need help. These people were sold a false bill of goods. They are tired but they are most certainly not bored. Liberals aren’t tired and bored. Who is tired and bored? The media? Politicians? Who? You? I don’t care if you’re tired and bored, Rosenstock. They just took net neutrality away. They just passed a terrible terrible tax bill. Things are very bad right now. Nobody has time to be tired and bored. This is one of those songs that makes liberals hate liberals as much as conservatives hate liberals.
This is all echoed by the final song, “Let Them Win”:
“We’re not gonna let them WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN.
What am I meant to gleam from this song? My big takeaway is that Rosenstock is again channeling his inner 14 year old who believes that good things will happen because of a chant along chorus in a rock song.
They’re going to keep winning, Rosenstock. This attitude you’re putting forth in this extremely over-lengthy song is the same attitude that got Trump into the white house in the first place. Of course they’re going to keep winning. Express in any way something helpful someone could do. Wondering who the gas station clerk voted for is not helpful.
It’s entirely possible that this song is meant to be cynical and sarcastic, which I find even more troubling. We need real punk music right now, the type of stuff that energizes people and gets them behind a cause. This is decidedly not that. If Rosenstock needs to vent via an extremely bland set of teenage lyrics that avoid specifics and ideas at every opportunity, that is his prerogative. It makes for a fitting accompaniment of the times we are living in.
The rest of the album is generally enjoyable power pop that is comparatively bland but mercifully less political.