Review: Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?

 

jeff-rosenstock

Up until yesterday, I hadn’t heard of Jeff Rosenstock or any of his various projects, as heretical to the punk scene as that may be. For someone who has been a part of the scene for 20 years, he’d somehow completely escaped me the entire time despite dipping my toes in literally every band I’ve come across in the same amount of time.

His second solo LP, We Cool?, was a random album I decided to listen to yesterday, and since then, I have listened to just about everything else he has put out. We Cool? is a lesson in punk rock from someone who has watched the genre evolve from the brutal grunge of the 90’s to the melodic pop noise of today. It really says something about an artist’s talent when in less than a day, they’ve made themselves as important as Lagwagon’s Joey Cape to me.

We Cool? is a trip through the last twenty years of punk and pop punk. Each song feels instantly familiar in some way, shape or form: a guitar solo in “You, In Weird Cities” and the opening to “Novelty Sweater” would make Weezer envious. Ben Folds Five piano rock oozes out of “Nausea” before breaking out in a sweet horn section out of a slower Less Than Jake song. The songs aren’t rip offs of these bands, but Rosenstock wears his influences on his sleeve proudly.

The result is an album that goes above the label of “punk rock” and instead offers the best of what the genre can deliver in any form. Rosenstock provided most of the work on the instruments (at least what I can tell from the album’s site), and each instrument shines through when needed and allows the album to stay fresh as it tours from one style to the next. Chiptune melodies appear suddenly in some songs (“Polar Bear or Africa”), but feel essential at once, especially when paired with the bass lines and guitar.

The real star here is the guitar work. The crunch of the chords feels classical and aggressive, while the solos slide with such stylish pop that most modern bands seem almost childish in comparison. The way that songs transition from soft pop with country influences (“Beers Again Alone”) to unapologetic hard punk (“Hey Allison!”) ensures that at the end of each song, you’re transfixed on what the next one will be.

Rosenstock’s vocals strike me in weird ways. He obviously pushes himself from sweet croons to straining his voice to be purposely out of tune amidst snarling melodic shouting. He sounds authentic and unwilling to artificially tune his voice.

The record sounds mature. This is a man who has outgrown the troubled love life of younger bands and is finding life as an adult even more troubling then most punk bands have ever explored. Don’t get me wrong, these are definitely drinking songs and the standard fare of drug use and subtle emo garnishes are aplenty, but it goes so much deeper. “Polar Bears or Africa” actually tackles most young punk bands head on with a single lyric of, “The truth is it sucks being young and in love / When you’re old you’re just bummed that you’ll never be happy enough”.

The first line of the album on the aptly titled “Get Old Forever”, Rosenstock regrettably sings in a monotonous tone reminiscent of The Mountain Goats, “When your friends are buying starter homes / With their accomplishments / Drinking at a house show can feel childish and embarrassing / With people glaring / Because despite what the advertisements said / Malt liquor doesn’t make you young”.

The theme of maturity gone wrong is what carries the album. The rock scene is something beyond the ‘norm’ for most punk teens turned adults, and Rosenstock’s lyrics reflect it brutally honestly. During “You, In Weird Cities”, Jeff sings, “I don’t have to wake up, I don’t have to feed a kid / And it’s got to the point where I’m not sure if that’s something I wanted”.

For me, Jeff Rosenstock is a new obsession, for others this solo album is a another high standard. Perhaps the only downside to We Cool? is that all the genre progressions can make it feel disjointed at times, and perhaps a bit too long. But the few downsides are so outweighed by such sincere and intricate songwriting it doesn’t even matter. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Jeff Rosenstock, We Cool? is the jump off needed to showcase his talent on every level. For those of you who already know about him, keep doing what you do; you’re obviously better than the rest of us.

Please check out the Quote Unquote Record label and show some support or check out Sideone Dummy for the album’s release. It’s well worth your time.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and somehow completely missed Jeff Rosenstock for last fifteen years. Boooo. Boo Kyle, booooo.

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