Jeff Rosenstock – “We Cool?”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “You, In Weird Cities,” “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry”

Last year at some point, The Huffington Post published an article detailing bands that write a lot about drugs. And while most readers were left marveling at the fact that Tom Waits has survived it all and is still recording, I noticed that Jeff Rosenstock’s previous band pops up in the lists. It’s worth noting, as I’ve done so many times in the past, that Bomb the Music Industry! is my favorite band. By a whole lot. St. Vincent is a relatively distant second. So I was ecstatic to see BTMI! getting this coverage, even if 1) They were already broken up (to which I wrote this weepy post), 2) Most of the songs are unabashedly sad and, 3) It was in the Huffington Post. Now that he’s on his own, Rosenstock has the freedom to broaden his range. And although he does, “We Cool?” is still dominated by sad-drunk indie-punk songs.

Rosenstock sings “Malt liquor doesn’t make you young” in “Get Old Forever,” and “I’m always getting high when no one’s around” in “You, in Weird Cities.” Those are just the first two songs. “Nausea” and “Beers Alone Again” speak for themselves. He didn’t influence this wave of sad punk and emo bands, he practically invented it. The themes on “We Cool?” might echo those of (every BTMI! album), but we’re always going to be sad and infuriated, so it’s not at all a rehash.

Turn on nearly any track on “We Cool?” and it might sound like a BTMI! song left on the cutting room floor. But it’s a different record – it flows, musically, but not in the way that “Scrambles” or “Vacation” do. “We Cool?” balances different influences against each other. Weezer hot track “Novelty Sweater” bleeds into keyboard-heavy pseudo ballad “Nausea,” which then transitions into the harmonica-featuring “Beers Alone Again.” Rosenstock isn’t as constricted to a central theme, emotion, or season, like he was in previous bands. Instead, Rosenstock is investigating what it means to be a solo singer-songwriter. Perhaps it’s the maturity that comes along with the title, or perhaps it’s the first true solo work of someone who’s already a songwriting veteran at 32, but Rosenstock falls into singer-songwriter mode often on “We Cool?” He references ‘a god you never believed in’ on “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry,” which is itself a very singer-songwriter type song. And he focuses more on his voice – something BTMI! never focused on, to the point where they wrote a song about it (“Vocal Coach,” actually maybe my least favorite BTMI! song, but for other reasons). But for a punk singer-songwriter, Rosenstock’s vocals actually come through well, especially on “Nausea” and “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry.”

There’s debate over whether this is his first or second solo album – I say second. Either is correct. “I Look Like Shit,” released in 2012, was a collection of covers, B-sides and unreleased songs that had little flow to it. “We Cool?” is Rosenstock’s first cohesive solo album, and unlike “I Look Like Shit,” it’s highly re-listenable. It gets better after a few listens, even. What ultimately makes the album strong is that it isn’t associated with any of Rosenstock’s previous bands. He’s solo; it’s what he wants to do, even more on his terms than before. Sure, BTMI!’s John DeDomenici plays on the album, but it’s a Rosenstock show now. And although he strays beyond any conventions of structure, he sticks with the reluctantly-maturing, drunk-punk adult songs. Ten years ago last month, Jeff clicked upload on an album eventually titled “Album Minus Band,” under the Bomb the Music Industry! guise, expecting no response, not even from ASOB fans. Now, he released “We Cool?” a week early for no reason, to a wide, patient fanbase.

-By Andrew McNally

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