As soon as the 2020 Presidential Election was finally called for Biden, there were calls from right-wing commentators to see things from their perspective and to give them some time to heal.
This request was, obviously, ludicrous and insulting because you knew that the right’s request to consider their point of view tends to only flow in one direction, and there wasn’t a lot of empathy and calls to understand Clinton voters after the ’16 election was called, and there sure as hell wouldn’t have been if Biden had lost.
Fortunately, as usual, Jeff Rosenstock saw all this coming, and already had a song in the chamber to help you laugh it off. The Long Island punk lifer put it best on “Scram!,” a standout cut from his standout album No Dream, one of the best rock albums of the year. (“Scram!” was also the basis for the best late-night performance of the year.)
“I’ve been told for most my life
Try to see the other side
By people who have never tried to
See the other side”
“Everything you say is a distraction
Well, I’m not listening to you”
And fine, a little more but only because Jeff is great:
“Not hearing all your shit
Don’t waste my fucking time
And don’t you want to get away tonight?
Go kick rocks and die”
Music was the one reliable balm in this exhausting, unending year. Artists such as Taylor Swift created the musical equivalent of a warm sweater to help us swaddle away our anxieties, while Dua Lipa and Charli XCX turned our living rooms into dance parties so we could toast to better times.
Then there were the musicians that gave voice to our anger against a hollowed-out system that allowed untold thousands to needlessly suffer and die due to negligence and incompetence. No Dream was the exhausted battle cry of reasonable, good-hearted people who watched their country fall apart for years, and are sick to death of respectability politics and calls to be civil that aren’t going to put the fire out.
A DIY punk lifer, the Long Island-based songwriter has a remarkable talent for cutting through the bullshit and getting right to the point. He’s also got an uncanny sense of timing, dropping his critical breakthrough album Worry a few weeks before Trump’s victory, and surprise releasing his rallying cry Post on New Year’s Day in 2018, just as things were starting to get much worse. With No Dream, another welcome surprise release, he eased us out of the Trump era with his signature compassionate fury.
Rosenstock is an assuming, good-hearted leftist dirtbag who works in a proudly declasse genre (pop-punk with hints of prog, ska, and thrash), who has no interest in sucking up to the NPR/MSNBC respectable neoliberal crowd. He sings like a guy who has all the skin in the game, who could really use some damn healthcare, who constantly worries that he’s going to end up working in an Amazon warehouse and peeing into a Gatorade bottle.
Doom scrolling through the Bad News On Twitter is terrible for your mental health, and Rosenstock makes it clear he’s been as glued to his feed as the rest of us for these past four years. And goddamn, is he tired. The title track is a grandly-rising swell that explodes into a triple-time breakdown that leaves him audibly breathless as Rosenstock comes to grips with the fact that his country is capable of evils he never imagined.
“They were separating families carelessly
Under the guise of protecting you and me”
Rosenstock calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it, but as heavy as his heart sounds, he refuses to let the bastards steal his joy from him. As righteous as No Dream is, it’s also a blast, one unapologetic bubble-gum hook and pogo-inducing beat after another. This is music made to be screamed along in a sweaty crowd while you try not to get kicked in the head by a crowd surfer. That we had to listen to it by ourselves was just another indignity 2020 served up to us.
Throughout No Dream, Rosenstock argues that in a crumbling world, the only thing we can do is hold tight to the people we love, and remember they’re the reason why we’ll keep pushing for the world to be a better place. It’s hard work, though. Closer “Ohio Tpke,” takes one of weariest of rock cliches, that Life On The Road Is Tough, and makes it sound fresh and relatable, even if you don’t make your living via touring the country in a van. (Though Rosenstock also writes music for the cartoon Craig Of The Creek.) Rosenstock contemplates the loneliness and wear and tear of touring and the pain of being away from the one you love, elevating the vulgar into something nearing poetry through sheer plainspoken sincerity, aided by the power of nervously elevating guitar strokes that sound like tapping anxiously on the dashboard.
“All these other motherfucking dipshits can bite me
‘Cause you’re the only person that I wanted to like me”
Next year has to be better than this one. (Right?) For his own sake, I hope Rosenstock can wean himself off the news, ignore the dipshits for a while and maybe download a meditation app. Like the rest of us, the man deserves a break. But not for too long, because when the madness starts again we’re going to need him back on stage, calling bullshit with a nervous smile.