I’ve only met Jeff Rosenstock once. It was after PUP’s The Dream is Over release show at the Phoenix. Jeff had played that night (he can often be found opening for great punk acts playing in Toronto) and, in spite of just getting off the stage after an impassioned ensemble encore rendition of ‘El Scorcho’, he was gleefully manning his own merchandise table after the show. It wasn’t that Jeff couldn’t get help with his table, there were plenty of staff helping mince through the dozens of PUP fans clambering for merch; rather, Jeff just sincerely wanted to meet his people.
I pushed my way through the crowd to say hi. I hadn’t really had time to think about what I was going to say to him once I reached him. At the time, I was more concerned with traversing the sea of bodies, each of us covered in that particular brand of post punk-show sweat. Finally, upon reaching the table, I was struck with an acute attack of fanboying, known to cause verbal diarrhea. As Jeff turned his attention to greet me, I sputtered “Uh…fuck yeah...great...yeah”. Jeff was unfazed. Smiling at me, eyes filled with warmth, Jeff thanked me for coming to say hi and enjoying the show. As I walked away I had already forgotten about my stumbling, and was filled with pride in having met one of my heroes. Therein lies Jeff Rosenstock’s power.
I can say with confidence that Jeff is probably one of the most sincerely humble and laid-back people in music today, a living embodiment of his pop-punk sound. It is why you will often find him opening for bands who praise his music as a part of their formative years, rather than headlining himself. It’s also why Jeff gives away all his former bands’ albums and his solo work for free online. Bomb the Music Industry’s Album Minus Band was free two years before Radiohead released In Rainbows. So, it’s little wonder that Jeff’s songwriting is so focussed on trying to connect with his peers.
Jeff is the patron saint of the “Peter Pan” Generation. The stay at home, drink alone crowd who is still trying to figure out their lives. Previous albums I Look Like Shit and We Cool? Briefly touch upon this. However, his latest release, Worry, is the magnum opus of the never-going-to-grow-uppers. The album explores the frustrations, shortcomings, barriers, and hypocrisies facing many millennials today.
A common theme found throughout the songs is the sort of duality that exists in this generation. Festival Song touches on this idea best, talking about how absurd it is to both acknowledge the moral decay of late capitalism, while at the same time sporting a ‘sweat shop denim jacket’. The battle between Gen We and Gen Me. The song To Be a Ghost presents this duality as well, but rather discusses the internet’s ability to connect us. Unfortunately, it is to people who defend police violence or to companies who want to mine our data, ultimately making us feel invisible.
Even though Jeff is an incredibly warm person, his albums are often wrought with the anger and anxieties that he experiences. There is a clash between his notably upbeat ska influenced pop punk style, and his often brooding and self loathing lyrics. Although this might seem counter intuitive, the style allows for incredibly cathartic highs and crushing lows, especially when paired with Jeff’s wailing timbre.
The second half of the album is filled with a number of short and sweet ska and punk vignette songs, that lead into the crescendo of HELLLLHOOOOLE, written about the the abuse of tenants at the hands of landowners. This personal duality can also be found in the relationship between the album cover and the opening song We Begged 2 Explode. The cover features an overjoyed, nearly manic party guest at Jeff’s wedding last year; the photo becomes much darker after the first song, which discusses the escapism found in partying, made futile and brief “once the magic is gone”.
Musically, I can concede that this album may not be for everyone. Many unfamiliar listeners will likely struggle with Jeff’s voice, which is far from perfect. However, I will contend that there is indeed a great amount of charm in it. In spite of his flaws, Jeff unabashedly attempts some pretty interesting and sometimes complex vocal melodies and harmonies in his songs. Instrumentally, the drums and guitars on this album are muddier than on I Look Like Shit and We Cool?. I personally prefer the cleaner cuts on the previous albums, however this isn’t to say that the instrumentation is bad. As previously, Worry mixes in a number of piano, synth, and horn elements into the songs, and the tracks distinct enough to keep the muddy instrumentation interesting.
Worry ends with what is a direct piece of advice from Jeff to his fellow millennials. Perfect Sound Whatever posits that the reason that something seems to take so long to be perfect is that perfect as concept doesn’t exist. There is no right or wrong way to live our lives, no perfect way to love one another, and certainly no perfect way to say hi to one of your musical heroes.