WORRY. by Jeff Rosenstock
Genre: Pop Punk
Favorite Tracks: “We Begged 2 Explode,” “Festival Song,” “The Fuzz,” “Pietro, 60 Years Old”
When I was 14, the music of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches was the only thing I kept on my purple iPod Nano. To anyone’s objection at the lack of diversity, I’d immediately retort, “Why would I listen to anything else?” Actually, there were plenty of reasons. The band sloppily played three-chord songs with titles like “(I Must Be a Proctologist Because) All I Deal With is Assholes.” Complete with a horn section and the use of upstroke guitar, the band could be neatly described as just another teenage third-wave ska band. But what made them atypical, and what kept me coming back, were the lyrics of frontman Jeff Rosenstock — he spoke as though talking to a close friend, had a heart patched on his sleeve, and couldn’t sing worth a damn. On his third solo record, released almost 20 years after the disbandment of ASoB, he still can’t. Yet WORRY. still brings me back to a time when I’d listen to an album on repeat for days and question the point of listening to any other record.
Rosenstock has maintained a distinct sound his entire musical but has never sounded stagnant – he’s dabbled in a myriad of genres throughout the dozens of albums he’s had a hand in. The main consistency in his tunes are strong melodies that could easily make their way onto a mainstream pop song if Jeff wasn’t a diehard punk. The instrumentation and production make them sound simultaneously glossy and lo-fi; bells and feedback found in equal measure. WORRY. fits the mold, though has a cleaner sound as it’s the only record for which Rosenstock has reportedly “had a budget going into it.” This is probably due to the warm reception of his 2015 effort, WE COOL?, which received more press than any previous Rosenstock record.
Although Jeff has long controlled his music, WE COOL? was a suggestion that he was ready to take the solo credit his albums deserve. WORRY. is a solidification of that announcement. Look no further than the progression of his punctuation – his question mark has matured into a period. Rosenstock’s music has matured, too. His experimental days with the punk supergroup Bomb the Music Industry! behind him, he’s evolved a narrower focus. He mostly forgoes his affinity for cheesy synths and noise rock to focus on his strength: composing slick guitar riffs that compliment his sing-along vocal melodies and the occasional horn line to boot. WORRY. is his most accessible album to date.
Look no further than the opener, “We Begged 2 Explode.” Rosenstock has a number of epic-ballad-ending-with-a-group-chants under his belt, but this could be his best. It may even fool indie kids into thinking this isn’t a punk record. One might guess he’s recruiting more hipsters to his fan base, but no one could claim Rosenstock has sold out. The closest thing the record has to a lead single is ironically titled “Festival Song.” The power pop anthem, prefaced as the “song of the American dorm room,” rallies against capitalism in the music industry (Coachella, anyone?) with a yelp-filled chorus warning, “they wouldn’t be your friend if you weren’t worth something.” Following the excellent, eclectic run of the first eight songs, Rosenstock indulges in a classic punk medley that blasts through nine tracks in 15 minutes. This is sure to alienate softer listeners, but the songs are necessary to the album; Jeff’s lyrics can be so low that the fist-pumping music is necessary to eschew the overly depressing.
Rosenstock has spent two decades writing relatable songs off the cuff, about getting drunk too much, moving out, and the monotony of touring. The subject matter of WORRY. continues the pattern, and lines like “When you’re a dream, I’ll wake up to sun rays that make me want to scream” prove he’s grown as a songwriter. On the other hand, Jeff’s delivery hints that he’s more emotionally stable than on previous albums, his usual despair replaced by (moderate) confidence. Consequently, his singing contains less passion than devoted fans know he can achieve on older deep cuts, but new listeners would never complain about the album being heartless — it never has and never will be a valid critique of Jeff Rosenstock.
If you were to ask adolescent Phillip if he’d still be listening to Jeff Rosenstock’s music in a decade, he would’ve assured you yes without blinking. Though it’s not quite in the capacity I would’ve expected, Jeff’s music is also not the same as it was seven years ago. WORRY. stands as perhaps the most solid and patient Rosenstock album yet, and should tickle longtime fans and new bandwagoners alike. The best part about it is that it sounds like Jeff is just as excited about releasing records as he always has been, so we have much to look forward to. I couldn’t be more grateful — it’s hard to imagine a world where Jeff Rosenstock isn’t making music.
(You can download the album for free through Jeff’s “first ever donation-based record label”)