Rosenstock channels ‘POST-’election disillusionment

Photo courtesy of Quote Unquote Records

On New Year’s Day, singer-songwriter Jeff Rosenstock released “POST-,” the punk artist’s first studio album since 2016.

The album, which Rosenstock primarily composed following the 2016 Presidential election, focuses on the aftermath of Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency. Because of its origin, “POST-” offers an excellent opportunity to gauge the future of rock music in the Trump era.

In late December, U2’s Bono addressed the lack of energy in rock music today in an interview with Rolling Stone. The frontman described the genre’s primary issue as a shortage of “young male anger.” While there are plenty of female rockers out there who might disagree with Bono’s assignment of a specific gender to the anger that is necessary for good rock music, few rock fans would disagree with his conclusion that young rage powers rock.

In no subgenre is this truer than in punk, and no subgenre has suffered more from a lack of young anger and energy. The reason for this lack of anger is anyone’s guess. Perhaps aging stars have been hogging the rock audience too much for young artists to establish themselves, forcing aspiring rockers and their energy into other genres, such as hip hop. Or it may simply be that in the last decade, there has not been enough to be angry at.

Certainly, the world as it has existed for the past ten years was not a perfect place in the eyes of any group, but social and political changes under the Obama administration generally agreed well with the politics that most would-be rockers endorse. Between 2008 and 2016, most punk artists felt empowered, not oppressed.

In Nov. 2016, however, Donald Trump’s election to the presidency and conservative majorities Congress suddenly gave progressive artists a cause for anger. Whether this fresh rage translates into fresh music has yet to be seen, but America’s new sociopolitical climate certainly offers some new hope for rock.

Rosenstock’s album sends mixed signals about the state of rock music in the new political environment. While it comes quite close to being the album the rock world so badly needs, “POST-” just barely misses the mark.

“Yr Throat,” a fast, barnstorming song with an energetic drum beat reminiscent of a Clash song, offers exactly the kind of rage-filled punch that punk music needs. Paired with lyrics about the frustration of feeling silenced, the track is the thesis for the album.

Like “Yr Throat,” “Powerlessness” is an angsty song about Rosenstock’s struggle to come to terms with the contemporary environment, and he eventually succumbs to the hostility, feeling “totally dead.” On these fast tracks, Rosenstock responds to political frustration in the manner in which punk artists always have: with defiant anger.

“USA” is an interesting track on which Rosenstock masterfully portrays the evolution of his response to the election. The song begins as a slow elegy to a free America and grows in tempo with successive crescendos before exploding in a fit of angry shouting.

Rosenstock even seems to give a conscious nod to the need for a new punk revolution in the modern climate, alluding to The Crickets’ “I Fought the Law” (famously covered by The Clash) with the line “I fought the law, but the law was cheating.”

With “USA,” Rosenstock points out the need to respond to the current political climate with resistance, not with disillusionment and surrender.  Sadly, the rest of the album largely fails to capture the same energy that “Yr Throat,” “Powerlessness,” and “USA” have.

“TV Stars” is a slow, sad shout for help. While at times it speeds up and sounds somewhat like a punk song, the whole song is just the narrator feeling sorry for himself. A dark song about disillusionment and cynicism, “All This Useless Energy” is stylistically angry and fast moving, but it ultimately lacks the energy that the best tracks on the album have.

The last track on the album, “Let Them Win,” appears to be a powerful anthem for those fighting back, with repeated shouts of “we’re not gonna let them win.” Still, Rosenstock infuses every defiant shout with a hint of uncertainty, allowing his voice to waver at the end of each line.

The song is about never giving up, but Rosenstock acknowledges that fighting forever does not guarantee victory; this concession explains the title of “Let Them Win,” instead of “We’re Not Gonna Let Them Win.” Like much of the rest of this new album, the closing track ends up sending a mixed signal.

“POST-” is an entertaining album with some excellent songs and some mediocre songs. As a whole, it does not deliver the coherent message of angry defiance and resistance that characterized the punk music of eras gone by. Perhaps rock music is still waiting for its revolution to begin, or perhaps it is simply not taking the form it has in the past. Only time will tell.