We’re starting this year on the right foot, with a surprise release from Long Island native Jeff Rosenstock. An absurdly prolific musician with a career spanning over 20 years, POST-, released to Rosenstock’s Bandcamp on New Year’s Day, follows 2016’s WORRY. as his fourth solo full-length and first for Polyvinyl. As with his past work, POST- might best be described as a joyful expression of angry discontentment. Lyrics focus on the struggles of being an individual in an increasingly modern world while also condemning the state of the world at large.
POST- is also a continuation of Rosenstock’s powerfully anthemic songwriting. Songs explode out of nothing and move at a breakneck pace, driven by electric guitar and percussion and interspersed with tasteful solos as well as a number of more ambient interludes. Here, Rosenstock appears to be more invested in his craft than ever before, from both lyrical and compositional perspectives. Where WORRY. crams 17 songs in 37 minutes, POST- gives us 10 in just over 40 minutes. Each song on the new album is undeniably dense, skillfully intertwining the personal and political. Rosenstock’s focus and determination are at all-time highs on POST-. A call to arms, the album itself is a passionate plea to end complacency.
The album title itself has two express functions. First, it acts as a gentle jab at the “post-”s of music’s alternative scene, generally used by those who have decided that the existing lexicon isn’t sufficient to describe some work or another. It’s a fair criticism, but we shouldn’t get caught on the specifics; Rosenstock is just calling for more genuineness and less arrogance. Second, POST- also seems to refer to the “after” following an event, the cleaning up of some aftermath. Maybe a tenuous connection, but the album cover is a man vacuuming the entryway of a venue, and it’s not hard to guess to which event the “after” might refer. (Hint: there was a rather significant election in late 2016.)
POST- follows 2016’s excellent WORRY. not only in sequence, but also ideology. WORRY. tracks “HELLLLHOOOOLE” and “Festival Song” saw Rosenstock expressing his discontent with modern society — not least his own life — singing “They wouldn’t be your friend if you weren’t worth something,” as both personal reminder and lament for the nature of human interactions in a capitalist culture. POST- is in large part also an examination of how the human experience is declining in quality.
Opening track “Mornin’!” is a disquietingly robotic voicemail: “Hello, best friend / It’s me / Hope this makes it on your new record.” It’s a vague sort of mission statement (parallel to the aforementioned “Festival Song” lyric), a manifestation of the way interpersonal relationships are too often viewed as commodities, friends and acquaintances as opportunities to further one’s own social status.
Immediately after is the lengthy “USA,” POST-’s true exposition, whose cornerstone is the repetition of “tired and bored.” At eight minutes long, the song is longer than any other in Rosenstock’s discography, save for “Let Them Win,” which appears later on the album. Despite its length, it never loses focus, a testament to Rosenstock’s growth as an artist. “Please be honest / Tell me was it you?” he pleads, a vague question which we can assume is directed at potential Trump voters. The song closes with a chorus of voices crying “Et tu, USA?” an allusion to Julius Caesar’s final words — “Et tu, Brute?” — upon having been killed by someone he thought to be a friend. Rosenstock’s borrowing of the phrase parallels that sentiment, reflecting the betrayal that Rosenstock, among countless others, felt on November 8, 2016.
Rosenstock goes on to acknowledge that technology is suffocating us on “Powerlessness.” “Meet me at the Polish bar / I’ll be the one looking at my phone / Shaking like a nervous kid / Absolutely terrified of being alone,” he sings. He puts up the finger at Trump on “Yr Throat,” expressing his confusion with the presidency: “It’s not like any other job I know / If you’re a piece of shit they don’t let you go.” On closer “Let Them Win,” he turns the dejected quality of the previous nine songs into determined defiance. Though there’s still a hint of hopelessness as Rosenstock lists his grievances — “They can hang us out to dry / They can profit from their lies again / They can shake our souls / They can send us home” — he ends the album shouting, “We’re not gonna let them win / We’re not gonna let them win / Fuck no.” Let’s hope he’s right.