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

Everything Ever – “Solid Ground”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Big Ideas” “Black Cat”

Not every up-and-coming punk band can come out of the gate with a debut album as consistent and enjoyable as “Solid Ground,” but not every punk band gets to open for Arrogant Sons of Bitches, too. When I first saw Everything Ever (then known as Curious Volume), they were the opening band on the line-up on night two of ASOB’s two-off reunion performances (a bill that also included Laura Stevenson, Shinobu, members of MU330 and I think Good Luck). The energy that these young men put into their show really surprised me, they held their own in a huge line-up. Now their debut album is out, brimming with energy and poetry.

I hesitate to call Everything Ever “pop-punk,” because they’re not as cut-and-paste (thankfully). Their music has pop-punk qualities, but it isn’t directly aligned with any punk subgenre. It could equally be called skate-punk with emotion. What is there, however, is big choruses. The band has big choruses and ‘gang’ vocals right out of their Staten & Long Island(s) roots. And there’s a lot of energy, especially in the album’s early songs. The opening trio of songs, “This Destruction,” “Rock Bottom” and “Big Ideas,” come roaring with enough energy and volume to make pop-punk purists smile. Likewise, late-album song “From Below” is a little blast to kickstart into the finale. This is something that has always come easy to the band, a nice benefit to have, and it’s on full display here.

But the band – consisting of Zach Sandel on drums, John Trotta on bass/vocals and Andrew Paladino on guitar/vocals – add some little eccentricities to their music to elevate beyond pop-punk simplicity. Trotta and Paladino put more emphasis on vocals and vocal rhythms than most punk bands, adding some depth to the tracks (I noticed it the most on “Of Guilt”). They also put in musical flourishes that save the songs from being verse-chorus-verse-chorus, etc. There are breakdowns, calmer moments, and just generally motivated songwriting. Listen closely on “Rock Bottom” for a quick, very effective chord change, for example. Absolutely the best example of the band’s songwriting is the finale, “Black Cats,” which does something most pop-punk bands would gawk at – stretches past six minutes. It’s a flowing song and a fitting finale, one that doesn’t sound nearly as long as it is. Everything Ever could be a pop-punk band – but are more one that have launched off of a template.

It could be that I saw the band open for ASOB and that I’m listening to Bomb the Music Industry! as I write this, but there were two things I noticed on the album that reminded me of Jeff Rosenstock’s songwriting – another man whose undefinable punk combined pop- and skate- templates. One example was quick – the pairing of lines “I gotta be more friendly / I gotta sing more passionately” in “Big Ideas” is delivered in a ‘pseudo-optimistic but kinda apathetic’ way that’s reminiscent of Jeff. And the lyrics, in general, have the same kind of poetic self-deprecation that BTMI was overloaded with. While most NY pop-punk bands direct their anger outwards, Paladino’s lyrics tend to focus more inwards, and while they’re maybe not as direct or specific as they could be, they’re still a poetic benefit that isn’t shared in fellow punk bands. So call Everything Ever what you’d like; maybe their name fits them well. “Solid Ground” is a strong debut, one that asks for a few listens. And with the band’s blending of influences, there’s no reason not to give it a few spins.

If you like this, try: Realistically, Everything Ever doesn’t actually sound a whole lot like ASOB/BTMI, even though I just spent a whole paragraph on comparisons. I’d rather align them with the Menzingers’ recent album, “Rented World,” which drifts closer to pop-punk than their earlier albums.

-By Andrew McNally