“Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected / Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted,” begins Jeff Rosenstock’s POST-, continuing the reflections and emotions of his previous, and most successful, record WORRY., which he released just a month ahead of the Trump election. WORRY. voiced Rosenstock’s anger towards and anxiety about gentrification, police brutality, and corporate advertising for which the system, the elite, and those in power are to blame. It carried with it a unifying “us vs. them” mentality, bringing hope to an America that has been wronged by “the ones we try to rage against” (“Festival Song”).
So if Rosenstock was feeling hopeful through WORRY. that people could still empathize and love despite the anxiety, why does POST– begin on such a bleak note? On POST-, Rosenstock is disillusioned with the America he thought he knew. He captures the same thoughts that many Americans had in late 2016: that surely the people of this country knew better than to elect an isolationist reality TV host to be our voice and leader in the world. But Rosenstock, like so many of us, was wrong. He wasn’t as in tune with the people as he thought he was. Feeling betrayed, he looks at the “clerk at the midwestern service station” or the “man in a crossover with his family” on “USA”, disappointedly wondering if they could be the ones responsible for this betrayal of what he knew.
The overall aesthetic and sound of POST- mirrors Rosenstock’s dejection cohesively across the album. Where WORRY. was full of color and bright instrumentation mixed in with gritty punk rock, POST- has digressed into a more straightforward (but no less excellent) fusion of punk, pop, and rock arrangements. In other words, don’t expect any glockenspiels or ska breaks here. However, his connection to music’s tradition has never been more seamless (for example, quoting the famous drum opening from “Be My Baby” on “Beating My Head Against the Wall” or the very Ringo Starr-esque drumming and Harrison-like guitar solo on “TV Stars” connecting Rosenstock with late-era Beatles).
But what POST– lacks in instrumental diversity it more than makes up for with excellent emotional lyricism and, as expected, passionately raw delivery. Some of the best single lines so far this year can be found scattered throughout the album. Like the beginning of “USA” when Rosenstock sums up punk culture and government/police corruption with the line, “I fought the law, but the law was cheating.” He follows up with “Yr Throat”, a self-reflection on being able to talk about the mundane incessantly, “but when it means something / I always disappear.” He continues in the chorus, “What’s the point of having a voice when it gets stuck inside your throat?”
“Powerlessness” outlines Rosenstock’s detachment from society in the wake of his disillusionment: “This just dawned on me / I haven’t spoken to another person in a week.” He connects this detachment back to the thoughts from “Yr Throat” about not having a voice: “I have lots of things to say / But they’re gonna sound dumb, dumb, dumb / I have lots of things to say / But I’m just an idiot.”
Through these little three-minute bursts of songs (with the exceptions of the longer “USA” and “Let Them Win”), Rosenstock has connected so many emotions to give us a picture of his life at the present, and really the life of any person from any time who feels disconnected from society because of differing opinions. There are points in time, like an election, that stand as a benchmark at which one realizes, “I’m really not as in tune with the people around me as I thought.” This realization causes anxiety, which in turn makes us less vulnerable with our peers. Still wanting to fit in, we resort to small talk and surface-level interactions on social media as our mediums of communication.
It’s worth noting that when Rosenstock is at his lowest in terms of self-esteem and connection with society, he’s looking at his phone. On “9/10”, he admits, “Nine times out of ten I’ll be stoned on the subway / Reading backlit directives of what I should do / Dodging eye contact with anyone who looks my way.” Whether backlit directives refer to the numerous advertisements found in subways or the constant advertising on smartphones, I can’t say for certain. But either way, detachment from society and staring at messages from the media on his phone eventually brings him to the realization that this is what “they” want, to turn this into every man for himself.
And so on the closing track “Let Them Win”, Rosenstock snaps back into “us vs. them”, realizing that he must fight to keep close to the people around him and fight against the politicians and the advertisers and the talking heads and whoever else would try to divide. The album comes to a close with the most anthemic and inspiring “Fuck no!” you’ve ever heard, before delving into an extended Vangelisian synth outro, a breath of fresh air after a fight through anxieties, worries, anger, and coming out the other side optimistic for the future. Jeff Rosenstock’s POST- is a frustrating, yet important, journey into American society to be sure, but its eventual optimism makes it worth remembering in the current soundtrack of our country trying to make a change.