Friday, May 29th, 2020
May 29, 2020
By Caleb Campbell
In 10 years Jeff Rosenstock has gone from beloved underground punk mainstay to a DIY legend and one of the most acclaimed figures in modern punk. Yet nobody seems more surprised than Rosenstock himself. In his words, “I didn’t expect to be doing well, in my life, ever.” The almost prescient qualities of 2016’s WORRY and 2018’s POST turned Rosenstock into a figure somewhere in between a goofy, loveable stoner and an anxious sociopolitical commentator. NO DREAM is both a look into Rosenstock living with that expectation on his art and another look into the present bleak cultural moment. Fortunately, it is all accompanied by one of Rosenstock’s most propulsive and cohesive works to date.
For his latest record, Rosenstock relocated from his native New York to California, a move reflected in how sunny and raw the album can be. Breezy tracks such as “Scram!” and “Nikes (Alt)” call back to ’90s pop punk. Of course, these tracks are still textbook Rosenstock, with sing-along gang vocals, well-constructed melodies, and lyrics that reflect Rosenstock’s anxieties and sardonic wit. “Nikes (Alt)” even takes Rosenstock’s success to task. He decries consumerism as a path to happiness, singing “There’s no vacant bliss,” yet earlier in the song he sings, “So I scour the internet for a new pair of Nikes/Status symbol shit that I say I’m above.”
Rosenstock himself remains a captivating narrator. He has a rare ability to give words to his demons in a way that captures our collective sense of uncertainty and anger. That authentic connection to his audience is captured perfectly on the title track. “NO DREAM” begins as an incisive critique at a collective culture that turns a blind eye to mass incarceration, child separation, and gun violence, but quickly turns into a careening punk indictment of capitalism at large. When Rosenstock shreds through lyrics such as “The only framework capitalism can thrive in is dystopia” it sounds closer to a primal scream, backed with an explosion of punk energy.
Although Rosenstock has no problem taking on the structural failures of capitalism, his harshest words are ultimately directed back to his personal apathy. On “The Beauty of Breathing” he sings, “I’m tired of knowing what about myself is wrong/But never mustering up the resolve/To really try to change it.” That apathy extends to his success as well. Rosenstock writes a heartbreaking tour diary on “***BNB” and “Ohio Tpke,” and grapples with aging in the spotlight on “f a m e.” On the back half of “f a m e,” the band vamps on the same line, repeatedly insisting, “You will not control.” Gang vocals and instrumentation build further before Rosenstock yells, “Leave me the fuck alone.” As engaging as it is when Rosenstock addresses sociopolitical issues, his anxious apathy builds the relatable emotional core to the album.
Given how heavy the subject matter is, it is amazing how much pure fun the album is. The record captures an aggressive and loose sound that ultimately plays out similar to a live album. It is immediately accessible and addictively repeatable. Several songs flow right into one another, similar to the multi-genre suite at the end of WORRY. While less adventurous than that set of tracks, NO DREAM does give most of these songs a more developed structure and runtime, which pays off well. Although the tracklist does have some satisfying short tracks such as pop punk rager “NO TIME” and the breezy power pop of “Monday At the Beach,” the best tracks are the multi-part gear-shifting explorations “NO DREAM” and the closer “Ohio Tpke.” That willingness to play with song structure sets him apart from most of the pop punk genre and shows why he is one of punk’s best songwriters.
If anything, NO DREAM shows that becoming the face of modern DIY punk has done little to change Jeff Rosenstock. He is just as self-effacing, funny, and principled as ever. He is still creating quality additions to one of the most consistent punk discographies out there. Most importantly, his music is still an absolute blast to experience, looking towards an uncertain future with a beautiful collective spirit. (www.jeffrosenstock.bandcamp.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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