All hail the king of anxiety.
Jeff Rosenstock turned 35 back in September, either making him the eldest of elder statesmen for Millennial punks or a baby Gen Xer. I prefer to see him as the former as he’s perfected a form of pop-punk that speaks to the teeth grinding mindset of the Y-generation in the United States. In other words, he sounds damn good when screaming “we’re tired, we’re bored” ad nauseum.
That’s not terribly surprising, both due to Rosenstock’s genre and the continuing thread of radical punk music mining the rich vein of anxiety that seems to hang on the entire generation like second hand smoke. With Priests, Sheer Mag and AJJ, the personal is undoubtedly political, and POST- might have made the most compelling and coherent statement of the lot, even as it threatens to collapse in on itself.
“Powerlessness,” the thrashing heart of POST- (complete with with two-note guitar solo!), spells out the central thesis. Rosenstock feels briefly alive at a protest (“We marched on the interstate and blocked the cops/ The echoes of the flash grenades rang in our ears as we moved along”) only to find himself flipping through his phone in the bedroom, lights off and realizing, “I haven’t spoken to another person in a month/ Well, small talk, obviously, but nothing beyond barely catching up.”
Such is the painful duality of POST-. Rosenstock bounces between the potential we have, and the shackles we create for ourselves. At POST-’s most nervous, Rosenstock catalogues the complete breakdown of self care, afraid that looking out for yourself is selfish and pointless. Go run, buy a dog, play some music, but are you really helping? And even if you are, what do you do when it falls apart? Or, as he puts it, “Every night you go to bed/ You wake up just a little more in pain.” The Weezer worthy “TV Stars” has Rosenstock listing off performance failures, his partner drifting to sleep in another’s arms and the false calm of a blaring TV screen. “It’s like somebody traded out my skin/ For something I could never feel good in,” he sings.
“Yr Throat” is more directly political, documenting Rosenstock’s spinning mental health after Trump’s election. He hangs out with his neighbors who, “Line up the shots and say to each other: ‘There’s nothing left we can do right now’.” And he seems unsure if they’re full of shit or speaking the truth. Later he sighs, “Every little victory don’t matter if nobody seems to care”; its unclear if he’s referring to protesting or the small gestures of care he gives himself. He’s constantly on the edge of giving in to the voices in his head and giving up on the planet, himself and his music. “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected/ Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted,” he rattles off to start the album, describing both himself and his peers.
And, of course, this mental breakdown is soundtracked by massive shout-along choruses, jittery drums and guitar solos that bleed caffeine. As with many of his pop-punk peers, Rosenstock could have a second career as a ghostwriter for pop stars. The catchiness on POST- is uniformly weapons grade. And combining that with sweating worry is no easy feat.
But POST- is Rosenstock’s strangest album yet. The first full track is the 7-minute-long rambler “USA,” which flips between power pop, ambient interludes and math rock choruses. It favorably compares to the behemoth and scatter-brained punk-prog of Green Day’s American Idiot. “9/10” is basically a Mac DeMarco song with all the irony washed out with fist pumping glory and closer “Let Them Win” holds an outro of swelling drones calmly floating the album off to sleep. Though punk has always been an appropriately mad conduit for anxiety, Rosenstock’s genre blurring better reflects his own fractured mind. Having one sound throughout POST- would have undercut how his fears are perpetually shifting. For him – and everyone else – anxiety feeds political worries, political worries feed the anxiety and the spiral continues. “I fought the law, but the law was cheatin’,” he screams on the opening track, only to rebut himself a few songs later as he sings, “You’re not fooling anyone when you say you tried your best.”
And yet, for all the worry, all the dread, all the nihilism, Rosenstock closes the album by screaming “we won’t let them win/ FUCK NO.” There’s no way his hair follicles were intact after recording POST-, but Rosenstock has created something welcoming and accepting in between the waves of angst. All hail the king of anxiety.