WORDS : ETHAN MEGENIS-CLARKE
Jeff Rosenstock always has a surprise up his sleeve. Last month, the Los Angeles via Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter released NO DREAM, the fourth solo studio album since his musical collective Bomb the Music Industry dissolved in 2014, without even a hint of a prior announcement. The record is arguably his best to date, combining the triumphant power-pop of his critically acclaimed 2016 album Worry, which perfectly captured the millennial malaise of post-recession America.
If anything feels overly bleak and overly fucked up, I try to keep myself in check and see either the humour in it or see the way out of it
On NO DREAM, Rosenstock carries on the defiant spirit that Post- teed up across thirteen of his most tightly constructed and anthemic songs yet. While the social and political messages are more direct on his latest offering, the music is more up-beat and infectious than ever: “I don’t think I’m alone in feeling it all at the same time. When I’m writing lyrics, I try to be aware of that.” Says Rosenstock when we catch up with him from his new home in Los Angeles: “If anything feels overly bleak and overly fucked up, I try to keep myself in check and see either the humour in it or see the way out of it.”
This duality has been at the forefront of Jeff’s music since Bomb the Music Industry, but nowhere is it more present than it is on Nikes (Alt), with Jeff “looking down the barrel of a shitty future/ throwing back whatever we can to avoid the dread”. If Post- was the sound of a house burning down, NO DREAM is a drunken protest on its foundations, with Rosenstock penning some of the most astute and insightful lyrics of his career. Notably, “The only system capitalism can thrive in is dystopia” on the title track: “If I’m writing something positive, it’s important to address that whatever that is, it’s within the context of a world that a lot of the time can feel defeating or bleak or a hard thing to fight through,” Rosenstock elaborates.
A true DIY hero, Jeff Rosenstock could have easily ridden the acclaim of Worry to indie rock stardom with a more calculated release schedule. Instead, he surprise released his last two solo records in between countless other projects, including collaborative records with Chris Farren (Antartigo Vespucci) and Laura Stevenson (Jeff and Laura), a live album (Thanks! Sorry!) and starting a new day job composing the music for Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek.
“As far as surprise releasing goes, I just like doing it that way.” Says Jeff of his unconventional career. “I don’t know if it will always be that way, but from my last band Bomb the Music Industry, an exciting thing about putting everything out for free on my website was that I could put it out and it was out there and it was done.”
to me, having music is important at a time like this
However, the hectic schedule started taking its toll around the time Craig of the Creek was picked up: “Over the last year, we haven’t been on tour because everything was overwhelming.” Jeff explains, “the hard thing was after Post came out and the cartoon got picked up from doing twenty episodes to eighty immediately, every day that I wasn’t on tour, I was working morning to night on the cartoon up until the day I left for tour.”
Jeff has used the time off afforded by COVID to work on more music for Craig of the Creek, an opportunity he got when the show’s creator reached out to him personally: “Ben [Levin] saw Bomb the Music Industry play a house show in my friends back yard in Brooklyn in 2007 and he emailed me about making a video and I don’t think I ever got back to him,” Rosenstock jokes of the chance meeting. “Him and Matt, the other creator were story editors at Stephen Universe, and they got an opportunity to make a pilot and he hit me up.” While the singer’s brand of off-kilter punk rock might not seem the most obvious fit for a Cartoon Network show, somehow it works. “It feels like such a punk show to me. Everyone who works on the show wants to do cool shit and it has a very chaotic spirit to it,” Jeff says fondly.
He has also used the free time to plan out the following two years, including time to record and tour NO DREAM: “it’s funny because it’s all completely cancelled,” Jeff laughs. While he could have got away with pushing the release back – given that no one knew it was even coming out in the first place – Rosenstock was undeterred by the pandemic halting touring and promotion. “There was never a moment of thinking of not putting this record out because of the pandemic.” Jeff explains, “to me, having music is important at a time like this. I’m thankful for the bands that are putting out records and when I’ve seen bands not putting out their records, I thought it was lame.”
The future is murky for any artist at the moment. Jeff says his band have been “booking and cancelling” tours as new guidance around the pandemic is released, playing the situation by ear so they can hit the ground running and give the songs on NO DREAM the exposure they deserve. Much is said about Jeff Rosenstock’s ability to capture a shared societal feeling – like he did so well on Worry and Post-. NO DREAM is no exception, and the time when we can all yell the lyrics back to Jeff in a crowded, beer-soaked room cannot come soon enough.