Jeff Rosenstock is so busy these days that he barely has enough time to make music. Between a rigorous tour schedule, and a new side gig as a composer for the new Cartoon Network show, Craig Of The Creek, the 35-year-old punk-rock lifer had to cobble together a week’s worth of time to record a new album, Post-, the followup to his most popular LP to date, 2016’s Worry. Finally, right after Thanksgiving, Rosenstock and his band hurried into a studio in East Palo Alto, California, and banged out the tracks for Post- in a marathon 86-hour session.
Looking back on the experience just over one month later, Rosenstock admits that the album might’ve benefitted from another day or two. Not that there are any apparent rough edges or loose ends on the record — Post- might very well be Rosenstock’s best album yet. Besides, he didn’t give himself much leeway on the release date. All along, the plan was to release Post- without advance warning on the first day of 2018, as a benediction for a new year in the wake of a deeply weird and contentious 2017.
“I wanted to do something that I thought would make people happy,” he says, “or at the very least do something that’ll give people something to have in the morning on the first day of the year, even if they don’t like it.”
Rosenstock does that a lot — the mile-a-minute talker will express an earnest desire to write songs that can uplift his growing audience, and play energetic shows that can at least temporarily alleviate their burdens and stresses. But then he’ll instinctively undercut himself lest he sound pompous or self-aggrandizing. “I came up from punk and it’s about no heroes, you know what I mean?” he says.
But the fact is, for those who still put faith in underground outsiders to stand against the crush of mainstream political and cultural hegemony, Rosenstock really has emerged as a kind of hero, if only for his ebullient resistance to those oppressive forces. Rosenstock’s specialties are cries of joy seemingly motivated by sheer terror — while anxiety about political unrest and tech-addled alienation pervade his lyrics, the music transforms those stress nightmares into rousing, unifying anthems that somehow manage to chase the demons away. Even more than on Worry, Rosenstock’s burgeoning talents as a tunesmith have really blossomed on Post-, though the fury at the heart of these earworms ensures that the hooks draw blood.
Take the seven-and-a-half-minute opening track “USA.” Like much of the album, “USA” seems to allude, without explicitly referencing, the 2016 presidential election. “I saw the sign but it was misleading,” Rosenstock hollers. “I fought the law, but the law was cheating / Screaming for help, but somebody keeps on telling me to settle down.” After a long ambient passage in the middle of the song punctuated by a defeated mantra, “We’re tired, we’re bored,” Rosenstock roars back and turns those words into a rallying cry, complete with cheerleader-style chants and handclaps, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
While Rosenstock notes that “USA,” along with about half of Post-, was partly written during the same period as the Worry sessions, there’s no denying that the specter of you-know-who looms over the record. Soon after the 2017 inauguration, Rosenstock retreated to upstate New York to work on a new batch of songs, including “Powerlessness,” which pleads for quiet contemplation during a time of wall-to-wall Internet commentary: “Shriek into the toxic well / Where everybody’s screaming for themselves / and leaves no space to process feeling lost.”
The spacious, and at times epic, sound of Post- is an attempt to carve out that space musically. The result is a record that feels like a generous gesture, an invigorating beacon of hope amid so much despair. Read our conversation about the record below.