When I look back through the musicians whose music has soundtracked some of the most important moments in my life in recent years, Jeff Rosenstock is near the top. His songs touch a nerve like few others. They are emotive but not dripping with sentimentality. Musically it’s punk but without feeling cliché. Rosenstock first made a name for himself in the seminal band Bomb the Music Industry! – after they called it a day in 2014, he went solo. Ten years, five albums, and scoring the kids TV show Craig of the Creek, later Rosenstock is has unveiled his latest album ‘HELLMODE’ to the world. Its one of his most personal and catchy albums today. Its also one of his most questioning.
‘HELLMODE’ kicks off, the album literally kicks off, with ‘WILL U STILL U’. Here comes the first question I always have whilst listening to a new Rosenstock album. “How is Jeff doing?” Then “Is everything alright?” followed by “Dude, let me give you a cuddle”. After listening to the opening line “Will you still love me after I’ve fucked up? After I’ve shown I don’t deserve your trust. and I’m not the person that you thought I was? Will you still love me after I’ve fucked up?” “Damn mate, come here for that cuddle” is my initial thought. Then the time signatures change. The melody goes somewhere else, and an incredible instrumental breakdown comes in swaggering. Then the song continues “Would you transcend time and space so you can punch my stupid face and knock some sense into my head before I make a terrible mistake and make you rethink everything that you thought was good in me?” Yeah, it’s definitely cuddle time.
The brilliance of Rosenstock is despite these heartbreaking lyrics the music is raucous and bouncy. It makes you forget the harsh lyric content and gets you jumping around. Only after doing you realise what has been said. This is Jeff’s gift, and he uses it well. ‘LIKED U BETTER’ feels like it’s about those moments when you start to fall for someone. ‘I liked you better. When you weren’t on my mind’ is something, my teenage self could relate to. He ends the song ‘Can you just get the fuck out of here. And let me get back to my day?’ Again, something younger me can totally relate to. On ‘FUTURE IS DUMB’ it’s another visceral musical attack. The main lyric is “The world doesn’t owe you”. Here Rosenstock seems to be aiming his bile at the 1%ers. Trust fund babies and politicians/CEO’s who think they can do what they want because its their whim. On ‘SOFT LIVING’ chorus is ‘How did we go so wrong’. Another mantra like sing-along. Here I’m wondering if he’s thinking about society or his relationships with friends and loved ones. I’m hoping it’s the former as he then bellows “I don’t wanna hold on for the end of the world…”
Just when you think everything is literally on fire in Rosenstock’s world ‘HEALMODE’ comes on. This feels to be in the same vein as ‘9/10’ from 2018’s classic ‘POST- ‘. It’s filled with tender acoustic guitar and delicious melodies. Rosenstock croons. I swoon. Take a break from work. Hold my mug so I can pretend the warmth I feel inside is from the heat coming off it, rather than the feels ‘HEALMODE’ makes me feel. Here Jeff delivers the best lyric of on the album: “Perfect lazy days, Where all you need is me, And all I need is you…” It’s brilliant. Its basically an ode to doing nothing with the people you love. After the slightly bleak opening salvo its nice to hear that things aren’t all turning to mulch.
This feeling of optimism continues on ‘3 SUMMERS’. Here he remembers having unapologetic fun as a kid in the summer “I danced and sang / I held my friends / For three whole summers” – but even here here Rosenstock is still questioning society’s choices: “The world is treating us all equal / When a person can starve as another one hops in a Lyft plus to JFK / To Europe, expenses paid, I know it’s not okay, but I still participate…” He knows the system is broken, but to live you have to play along. Near the end he delivers the songs proper message “Stay young until you die…” If you can do this, you’ll be ok.
‘HELLMODE’ is an incredible album from a gifted songwriter. The message of the album appears to be things aren’t great, but don’t let it grind you down, you got this. Oh, and stay young until you die. His ability to turn something gut wrenching, into catchy chorus is inspired. Heartache never sounded so much fun. If this is your first exposure to Rosenstock you are in for a treat. I’m jealous for you to hear it all for the first time. His back catalogue is filled with SOOOOOOOOOOO many great songs and albums. If you are an old fan, you’ll love falling in love with a new set of songs and learning the lyrics to bellow back to Rosenstock when he comes through your town. This is an album to get lost in. Rosenstock is one of the most important songwriters working, in any genre, at the moment. You’ll love exploring ‘HELLMODE’ like Craig in his creek.
Words: Nick Roseblade