Punk in the age of COVID-19
Surprise releases are nothing new to Jeff Rosenstock. The Bomb the Music Industry! frontman recently stunned the punk world for a second consecutive time this past May with the release of NO DREAM. In fact, this ambush seems to be a part of Rosenstock’s modus operandi; his previous album, POST-, dropped in a similar fashion in 2018. From Rosenstock’s role as the lead singer of ska punk band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, to his membership in Bomb the Music Industry! and Kudrow, he is a well-established and constant source of innovation for the east coast punk-rock scene. As one of New York’s most popular anxiety punk writers, Rosenstock’s newest album dropped in a time that served the political and social atmosphere almost too well. NO DREAM infuses a modern take on punk music with a punk take on modern living.
As expected, Rosenstock addresses the United States’ socio-political situation head on. Lyrically, NO DREAM is strong. From the frustration about our president’s negligence, to the violent and persistent separation of families at the border, to lobbyist corruption and the mourning of the personal loss of time during quarantine, the stressors of 2020 are highlighted frequently throughout this topically diverse project. Rosenstock doesn’t only sing of society’s woes though; the interpersonal relationships he maintains with his loved ones and himself also come under the microscope. Through this multitude of topics, the listener can pick and choose their relationship to the album. Where one person may find outrage and another defeat, a third finds solidarity.
With that being said, the lyrics of this album are greatly complimented by an wide variety of bold instrumental and vocal choices. From the stunning uniqueness of the guitar work on each song, to the beating bass lines and explosive drums, the layout of each individual song is magnificent. The intricacy of each track is both impressive and extraordinarily satisfying.
Album opener “NO TIME” begins quickly with fun, ample instrumentation, quirky synth effects and additives. In fact, the first few songs of the album display similar characteristics. “Nikes (alt)” utilizes a spunky drum line to help kick the track into high gear, and “Scram” manages to pull off an in-your-face aggression while remaining lively and trendy. Songs like “N O D R E A M,” and the beginning of “Old Crap” offer a refreshing break from the lighting-quick riffing of the majority of this album, with more muted and laid back vocals. The album wraps up with song “Ohio Tpke,” an ode to missed opportunity and distant regrets, solidifying Rosenstock’s propensity for heartfelt and uniquely grounded punk.
As the album fades with an array of gentle piano chords, the listener is met with a peaceful message in an album about facing the anxiety of the world. It’s almost as if Rosenstock has used the frenzy of punk sound to air a great grievance, and is finally able to rest… if only for a brief moment. In such a turbulent existence, turning to music can be cathartic. NO DREAM offers Rosenstock fans this escape for 40 minutes and 14 seconds. If nothing else, this album serves as a historical time-capsule and guidebook for navigating the world in 2020 as an embittered and aware citizen.