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Jeff Rosenstock: “We Cool?”

Jeff Rosenstock: “We Cool?”

The break-up of archetypal DIY punks Bomb the Music Industry! was, for lack of a better phrase, a major bummer. In less than a decade of existence, the group had gone from hyperactive ska-punk reminiscent of their predecessors The Arrogant Sons of Bitches to a surprisingly mature indie-infused sound on their final album, Vacation. If I may personalize for a minute, their dissolution was particularly sad for me because I was still a relatively new fan when it happened. I was fortunate enough to see BTMI! three times between August 2012 and August 2013, the final show being the first leg of their farewell tour. Every show was a wholly unique and joyous experience, and those tours elevated Vacation to one of my favorite albums in recent memory.

So yeah, major bummer that they’re gone.

Thankfully, the end of Bomb the Music Industry! did not mean the end of a music career for their mastermind, Jeff Rosenstock, a man who specializes in major bummers. His 2012 solo debut, I Look Like Shit, did not quite match the raucousness or (often overlooked) musicianship of his previous bands—perhaps because it was a true solo performance—but it was unmistakably a Rosenstock project. Big hooks and brutally honest lyrics were still the name of the game, and it delivered in that department, along with some quirky covers of Pulp and the Japanese band Ging Nang Boys. However, the release was as much a compilation as it was an actual album, and the result was not exactly cohesive.

Enter We Cool?, the first album of all original material from the now 32-year-old Rosenstock. The age is important to note here, because Rosenstock’s entire career has been built around careening toward adulthood at distressing speed. Anxiety, disillusion and the fear of growing apart from loved ones are recurring themes on the album, delivered in Rosenstock’s distinctively raw cadence. The opening lines set the tone for the whole album: “When your friends are buying starter homes with their accomplishments/drinking at a house show can feel childish and embarrassing/With people glaring because despite what the advertisements said/Malt liquor doesn’t make you young.”

This is youthful music for people with adult fears. Rosenstock grew up in an era when it was still cool to like Green Day and Weezer, and his pop-punk leanings are the foundation of the music here. There are deviations in the form of slow burner “All Blissed Out” and the partially acoustic closer “Darkness Records,” but the melodies and upbeat rhythms of those sorts of old favorites dominate the album, belying the emotional weight of the lyrics.

We Cool? is also Rosenstock’s first album with a full band since Bomb the Music Industry!, featuring familiar faces in the scene such as ex-BTMI!/ASOB bassist John DeDomenici and Shinobu guitarist Mike Huguenor, and additional vocals and instrumentation from musicians like the always welcome Laura Stevenson. The presence of other players here makes the record sound a bit more professional than I Look Like Shit. And while the variety of instruments present brings some of Bomb’s wilder moments to mind (cello, vibraphone, clarinet and even a singing saw making appearances), the sound is more streamlined than that of any previous Rosenstock projects.

In every way, We Cool? is the sound of a brilliant songwriter continuing to mature in spite of the ever-present fear of maturity. Although the world is a sadder place with no Bomb the Music Industry! in it, the man behind that band is still hear to guide you through that sadness. It’s an album to drink beers alone (again) too, rather than shouting along with your friends. And since Rosenstock’s fanbase is aging right along with him, that’s just fine.

The album is out on SideOneDummy Records, but you can download it for free (or purchase it) at Quote Unquote’s website.

Travis Marmon recently moved to Chicago from the Detroit suburb of Clarkston, Michigan. He attended the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, where he was Sports Editor and then Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Wooster Voice. Travis has also contributed to print and online publications such as The Oakland Press, The Good Men Project, Detroit143, Imagine Sports Media and Alternative Press. He spends his spare time playing bass and getting mad about the Detroit Lions.

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