While not as viscerally pleasing as his previous album, “WORRY.”, Rosenstock provides another sonic and energetic punk album in “POST-.”
When “POST-” dropped on New Year’s Day, my first thought was, “Whoa, that’s super early!” before I realized that Jeff Rosenstock’s last album, “WORRY.”, had come out in October 2016. That album, such a candy-coated ear-grabber, has been on constant replay so I had not even noticed Rosenstock’s musical absence in 2017, save for a single and a split-EP with SKASUCKS. Every time I went back to it, it felt as new and exciting as it had the first time I heard it, leaving me always thinking that it had just come out the week prior.
If one were to place “WORRY.” and “POST-” on a scale between pop punk and hardcore punk, they’d both be in the pop punk area, but with the latter album just a smidge closer to hardcore. That’s not to call this album hardcore — it gets nowhere near Black Flag levels — but Rosenstock’s energy is processed in a much angrier way on his latest release.
Criticism I’ve seen for “POST-” has taken the form of calling it a half-hearted attempt at rekindling the flame Rosenstock managed to capture in “WORRY.”, but the records are truly different beasts. The plain fact is that “WORRY.” is easier to listen to and far more personal, whereas “POST-” takes the casual listener by slight surprise and is very political in nature. The album title, for example, clearly refers to a state in which our country has branded itself in recent months: post-election, post-Trump, post-truth, et cetera. To glean the album’s context, one need look no further than “TV Stars,” the album’s sixth track, bearing the chorus “TV stars don’t care about who you are.”
As if this point weren’t clear enough, Rosenstock rips the cord on the album’s engine immediately with the seven-and-a-half-minute track “USA,” a sprawling manifesto filled with political misgivings, a dissonant chorus and a cheerleader-esque refrain gleefully crying, “Et tu, USA?! Et tu, et tu, USA?!” It’s a great track, definitely the most memorable, but its placement reflects unfortunately on the album. Rosenstock seems to use most of the gas on this opener, and the rest of the album feels somewhat dwarfed by the carefully orchestrated and angrily executed themes put forth in the first track.
That’s not to say the album is without its high points, however. The next track, “Yr Throat,” retains much of the cheerleader-esque energy found in parts of “USA,” working much to Rosenstock’s affinity for bubblegum punk and serving as a warm callback to “WORRY.” in some regard. “Melba” sheds these qualities, instead revealing itself as perhaps the most coherent of the album’s peppered anger-driven tracks. The hook isn’t as immediately grabbing and memorable as anything on “WORRY.”, but it captures the spirit of the album somewhat.
“POST-” flies by. Clocking in at a little under forty minutes and almost never slowing down, Rosenstock is there in your ear, screaming, and then he’s gone. “WORRY.” was a collection of tracks that all sounded unbelievably different from one another, but “POST-” feels far more collected as an album, far more focused of an effort. It doesn’t make for the intensely satisfying listen that his previous record brought, but it shows a musical maturation, and it’s still damn good.
Rosenstock slows down for us once on the appropriately named ninth track, “9/10.” This track feels nowhere near as political, and I’d be tempted to call it an outtake from “WORRY.” if it didn’t fit the vibe of “POST-” so well. The cool guitar riff that floats in after Rosenstock utters, “Nine times out of ten I’ll be thinking of you,” just sounds so wholesome yet groovy at the same time. It’s an insanely simple trick, but its flawless execution puts the song right under “USA” in terms of quality.
The album isn’t without its missteps. Most of the tracks carry themselves, perhaps weighed down by only a few sore spots. “Beating My Head Against A Wall,” however, makes me want to literally beat my head against a wall. I understand the irony of the monotonous track, I get it. Congratulations, Jeff Rosenstock. You’ve managed to turn abject bafflement into a song. Was it worth it?
Rosenstock evidently has an optimistic outlook on the future. What originally psyched me out for a depressed failure anthem (given its title of “Let Them Win”) surprised me with the chorus, “We’re not gonna let them win.” It’s simple. There’s no lyrical complexity, there’s no profundity, but it’s undeniably punk, and something about the soaring guitar and choir of voices that fall in after the album’s final words, “Fuck no,” is gorgeous.
“POST-” is bookended well, with the two longest tracks taking the beginning and ending spots. The record gets its gas tank refilled right before “Let Them Win” starts playing, and as if he’s aware of this spike in energy, Rosenstock ends the song (and the album) with a four-minute procession of chords from a synth that sound straight out of the ending of “Blade Runner.”
It’s an odd artistic choice to end a punk record that’s been trying to edge itself out of pop with a spacey, beautiful synth orchestra. Like I said, the album is bookended well, but with the whole interior of the album being somewhere lower in quality than it could be. The ending of “Let Them Win,” however, makes you forget all that. You smile for the album you just finished, you smile for the sentiments of Rosenstock, you smile for the hope he has for this country.
“Yeah,” you think, “we’re not gonna let them win!” Whether that’s true, Rosenstock makes you feel like it is, and in the final four minutes of “POST-” he gives us a glimpse of this victory.