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

Fade In: Beck

Beck just won the Grammy for Best Album, upsetting the shoo-in win for “Beyonce.” It’s led to some ‘controversy,’ Bey fans taking to Twitter to ask, “Who in the heck is Beck?” Well, I thought I’d use this opportunity to premiere a new feature of this blog: introductory playlists. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with for a little while, and this seems like the perfect time to start. Every so often, I’ll be publishing 5 or 10 song Spotify playlists with a range of songs from a certain artist. Big hits and deep cuts included, to give the best sense in a short time.

So who is Beck? Well, by this point everyone should know. He’s been releasing music since Beyonce was 12 years old. Though primarily a singer-guitarist, he often plays all the music on his albums, which can be anywhere from one to 15 instruments. His first and biggest hit came in 1994 with “Loser,” and two years later he released the seminal alternative album “Odelay.” His music has taken on a number of different personae. His early music is characterized by a huge blend of alternative, folk, psychedelia and often hip-hop influenced freestyled verses (Beck would record verses on a whim and promise to change them; he never did). A distinct change (no pun intended) came in 2002, when a break-up from a long-time relationship led to the somber, acoustic “Sea Change.” Since then, his music has taken more of an indie approach, regaining much of his early fun but sacrificing less structure. The album he just won a Grammy for, “Morning Phase,” is seen as a more optimistic sequel to “Sea Change,” and is a return to his soft, acoustic side. Want to talk about Beck but don’t know his music? No fear; here’s ten songs to start with.

1) “Loser” – His most well-known song, this song is marked by a depressing chorus, acoustic slide guitar mixed under freestyled, nonsensical lyrics and a vibe that no one else was doing in 1994. Coupled with Radiohead’s “Creep” and the Stone Temple Pilots’ “Creep,” it completes the trifecta of pure 90’s self-loathing.

2) “Nausea” – This 2006 single didn’t have a huge impact, but it’s one of Beck’s most fun songs off of one of his most underappreciated albums. It acts as a throwback to his earlier music – more defined, more practiced, but still acoustic madness that sounds unrehearsed.

3) “Blue Moon” – The lead single off his recent Grammy win, “Morning Phase,” “Blue Moon” is a gorgeous song, surprising by even the most somber of Beck standards. Featuring some beautifully poetic lyrics and a waking acoustic rhythm, it’s one of Beck’s best tracks, and one that showcases a very different side to his music.

4) “The New Pollution” – One of three big hits from his classic “Odelay” album, it’s typical Beck insanity. Catchy, and almost overstuffed with various instruments doing various things (including a nice saxophone bit).

5) “Think I’m in Love” – Another track from 2006’s “The Information,” “Think I’m in Love” is a more straight-forward indie song, an approach he took for the next few years. With an ever-repeating bassline, Beck sings optimistically about a new relationship. But – Beck fans know it’s only a few years removed from “Sea Change,” and it adds an unsettling nature to the song.

6) “E-Pro” – Maybe Beck’s loudest song, it was a roaring comeback in 2005. This is the first track on his “Guero” album, the first album he did after the soft and moody “Sea Change,” and Beck wastes no time announcing his return to his old self. With a beat sampled from the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want,” an 8-bit music video and a heavy guitar line, it’s one of Beck most distinct tracks.

7) “Gamma Ray” – Beck’s 2008 “Modern Guilt” received decidedly mixed reviews, with some people saying he plays it a little too safe and structured. Agree or not, on “Gamma Ray” Beck shows he can pull that off, too. “Gamma Ray” acts as a somewhat direct indie song, and might not sound out of place on a Death Cab For Cutie or Modest Mouse album. It’s an unfortunately forgotten Beck release.

8) “Girl” – The other hit from “Guero” mixes acoustic guitar and game-y chiptune bits into just a simple, fun song. With all of the instruments Beck plays, it’s somehow one of his only songs to feature a solo, on acoustic guitar. Beck has always been one to have great choruses, but “Girl” is one of is most memorable.

9) “Wave” – Almost definitely the most unnerving Beck song, it’s the black sheep of his recent “Morning Phase.” Showing up directly in the middle of the album, it breaks the flow of light, cheery tunes with an utterly brooding lack of rhythm and emotion. It’s just Beck’s ghostly vocals and strings, with no chorus or discernible rhythm. It’s a haunting track and already one of the biggest standouts in his discography.

10) “Where It’s At” – Beck’s other big hit, this one doesn’t get quite the airplay “Loser” always has, but it’s close – and earned Beck his first Grammy. This is the key track from “Odelay,” and it’s crazy Beck at his finest. Every instrument imaginable shows up, it’s catchy but twisting, noisy, rapped, random, and druggy. It’s a little long, sure, but this is what you get when you give Beck two turntables and a microphone.

There you have it, ten Beck songs to introduce you to his music. This specific playlist leans more on hits, future ones will likely incorporate deeper cuts. Now you can properly debate whether or not Beck deserved to win the Best Album Award! (He didn’t, but I still love Beck).

-Andrew McNally