by Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)
If there’s any confusion or uncertainty about Jeff Rosenstock’s politics, let the conspicuous “Fuck Trump” button adorning his guitar strap set the record straight: the pop-punk maven has no interest in bipartisanship. Like any singer worth his or her salt, Rosenstock performs with an unwavering conviction, brandishing his principles and foregrounding his beliefs to better represent his voiceless constituents. As Bob Dylan apprised us in the late ‘80s, we live in a political world, and between the releases of Rosenstock’s WORRY. in late 2016 and his surprise New Year’s record POST-, the American populace has borne witness to a jarring shift in political epochs. Of the multitudinous interpretations possible, the title of POST- may well be political in nature (Post-Obama? Why not?), but given Rosenstock’s facility for tying everyday imbroglios to larger narratives, there’s likely a human element to the album’s name. And though he’s often favored personal strife over expressly political subject matter, Rosenstock, here on POST-, keenly conflates the malaise of the human condition with the frustration of living in an autocracy that fails to reflect his own values.
POST- is an album rife with conflict, vacillating between furtive political references and forthright internal turmoil. Yr Throat questions the efficacy of self-expression as the narrator’s body and mind lock into a stalemate: “What’s the point of having a voice when it gets stuck inside your throat?!” All This Useless Energy stages a contentious dialogue between under informed neurotypicals and frustrated depressives: “You’re not fooling anyone when you say you tried your best.” “I’m worried of abandoning the joys that framed my life, but all this useless energy won’t hold me through the night.”
Despite all the inert, self-consuming acrimony in his lyrics, Rosenstock is still able to direct his vitriol toward the larger issues. More socially conscious than overtly political, POST- susses out the everyday woes of the American public while still attesting to Toni Morrison’s pronouncement that all art is, in fact, political. And though he never refers to Trump by name, instead amalgamating him and other elected officials into the duplicitous, caustic “USA” villain character, Jeff continuously makes sly allusions to his unsavory Commander in Chief. In a political climate that has fostered a pernicious fissure between its two parties, and in a cultural landscape that attacks its leader far more vehemently and directly, Rosenstock understands the merit in avoiding explicit Trump name-checking.
Jeff Rosenstock’s songs are so effortlessly symbiotic that it’s hard to tell if the animus of his lyrics informs the energy of the music or vice versa. Is the lo-fi tale of blighted romance on Powerlessness fueling its Descendents-derived power punk sound? Does the New York Dolls-inspired guitar-kitsch on Beating My Head against a Wall dictate Rosenstock’s delivery of the album’s catchiest chorus? In an album fractured by both internal and external enmity, Rosenstock’s dedication to cohesion between his music and lyrics is his most reliable asset.
Rosenstock may not have the firmest grasp on the political morass plaguing him and his compatriots—without mention of race or class, his political gestures can come across as vague or even worse, toothless—which is why he opts for oblique, rather than direct, allusions to the Conservative opposition to his Liberal way of life. But he isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last punk singer to tenuously assess democracy in song. In any case, Jeff further positions himself as one of punk’s most effectual mouthpieces here on POST-. His verve compensates for all the ambiguity rock lyrics demand, and with the clarion call at the end of Let Them Win (which could have been cribbed straight from the Woody Guthrie songbook but for its conclusive “Fuck no!” lyric), Rosenstock asserts that he won’t spend the first full calendar year of Trump’s presidency sitting on his hands.
Whatever the meaning you choose to ascribe to the term “post” (Post-Obama, Post-Trauma, or for the overdramatic, Post-America) POST- refers to the end of an era. Every generation grapples with its social and political conventions, and now the Millennials have been called to action. A daunting task, to be sure, for a throng of young people consistently written off as thin-skinned, lazy, and disinterested. But with Jeff Rosenstock at the forefront of punk’s socially-inclined philosophes, we’re sure not to be tired and bored with the fight. May we never be again.