Album Review of "Post-" by Jeff Rosenstock


POST- by Jeff Rosenstock:
The Political is Personal

Jeff Rosenstock takes an inward look at politics in what some critics are calling the first great album of 2018.

Genre: punk • post-punk

This episode contains explicit content.

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Album Review Podcast - Show Notes

Learn more about Jeff Rosenstock, listen to POST-, and read additional reviews.

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POST- by Jeff Rosenstock: The Political is Personal

This is a transcript of Ep. 18 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here

LINDA: Hello Bobby Waller, host of What's This Album About? 

BOBBY: Hello Linda Easton, co-producer and webmaster of What's This Album About?, the podcast that dives deep into the lyrics of today's best songwriters. That was so natural! 

LINDA: Wasn't it? 

BOBBY: Welcome back to the microphone, Linda. 

LINDA: Thanks! Good to be back. What album are we looking at this time, Bobby?

BOBBY: This time, we're looking at Jeff Rosenstock's new album, POST-. 

           ♪  We're tired, we're bored
                 We're tired, we're bored
                 Et tu, USA?
                 Et tu, Et tu, USA?

LINDA: Okay, let's start with the question we usually start with, which is: why is this album called POST-? I'm assuming he's not referring to raisin bran or a job. 

BOBBY:  I don't think so. I think it's important to note that it's spelled P-O-S-T hyphen. So it's not post as a noun, like fence post, and it's not post as a verb, like post a message on Facebook. It's post as a prefix. 

LINDA: Like post-apocalyptic. 

BOBBY: Right, it means after. 

LINDA: So in the title, he's referring to a period of time that happened after something. But what is that something? What comes after the hyphen?

BOBBY: Okay, the thing that comes after the hyphen is the presidential election of 2016. This is an album about what happened after the election of Donald Trump. So let me ask you Linda, when you listened to this album, did it strike you as a particularly political album?

LINDA: There are a couple of songs on the album that had political messages, but overall, I didn't get that sense. 

BOBBY: And that's how I felt about it, too. The first time I listened to POST-, I caught a line here and there that made me go, "Oh, that could have some political connotations," but overall, I was just impressed about what a great album this is. 

LINDA: True. It's gotten a lot of good reviews. 

BOBBY: It has. But, I will say, on closer listen, it did impress me as more political than I initially thought. 

LINDA: Okay, so let's look at that. 

BOBBY: Yeah, I want to look at two things. I do want to look at the politics of this album, but I also want to look at why this album is so likable, even if you don't agree with the politics of it. 

LINDA: Okay, convince me. Let's imagine that I don't agree with the anti-Trump message of this album, tell me why I should still like it.

BOBBY: Well, to begin with, it's just a really good album. It's one of those rare albums that the first time I put it on, I just had to listen to it from start to finish. It just captivated me. It's so musically rich. 

LINDA: Go on...

BOBBY: Okay, so it opens with the song, USA,

           ♪  Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected
                 Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted

which has that desperate, unhinged punk vocal style that reminds me of bands like the Mountain Goats and Andrew Jackson Jihad. And then a little later, we have the song, Beating My Head Against the Wall,

           ♪  Beat, beat, beat, beat, beating my head against the wall

which has a cleaner, catchier pop-punk sound that reminds me of the Ramones. And then right after that is 9/10, which is a genuinely beautiful love song. 

           ♪  Nine times out of ten, I'll be thinking of you

Rosenstock can be quite self-critical, as in these lines from Your Throat:

           ♪  I'll ramble incessantly on pointless ramblings in my head
                 First person shooter games, guitar tone, ELO arrangements
                 The differences in an MP3 and a vinyl record that you can hear
                 But when it means something, I always disappear

So this album can be very self-effacing, but it can turn around and be downright anthemic, as in Let Them Win.

           ♪  We're not gonna let them win
                 We're not going to let them win

This is an album that seamlessly moves from disempowered to empowering, from screaming to soft, from depressed to exuberant and does so all very naturally.

LINDA: Yeah, sometimes even within the same song.

BOBBY: Right. Let's look at Track 1: USA, or example, which I think is almost operatic in the way that it goes from frantic and frustrated 

           ♪  Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected

to tired and downtrodden,

           ♪  We're tired, we're bored
                 We're tired, we're bored

and ending as an anthem of rage.

           ♪  We're tired, we're bored
                 We're tired, we're bored
                 Et tu, USA?
                 Et tu, Et tu, USA?

USA is also useful  to look at because I think it demonstrates an aspect of Rosenstock's songwriting that makes his politics less abrasive than they could be. And that is that his focus is more inward than outward.

LINDA: What do you mean by that? 

BOBBY: Well, let's compare it to some albums that I would consider to be more outward in their political view. Take, for example, do you remember a couple months ago when we were briefly considering reviewing Tim Heidecker's Too Dumb For Suicide, which is his album of songs about Trump? Here's one of those songs: Trump Tower

           ♪  But I'll be hellbent to call that mother fucker president

Heidecker is focusing his political rage outward to something outside himself, to Trump. The name Trump is in the song's title. It's in the alternative title to the album. It's all about "that guy" outside of me. Or, Linda, you may recall that a few episodes ago, we looked at U2's Songs of Experience. That album was more positive than Heidecker's album, but still, the focus was largely outward. Listen to these words from the track, Get Out Of Your Own Way.

           ♪  Fight back, don't take it lying down, you've got to bite back
                 The face of liberty's starting to crack
                 She had a plan until she got
                 Smacked in the mouth
                 And it's all going south

So Bono is talking to all of us. He's enticing us to fight back. Everything is pointing outward. He's talking about the statue of liberty and how it's cracked, and at the end of the verse he talks about Lincoln's ghost telling us to get out of our own way and get over ourselves. It's all exterior. But listen to how Jeff Rosenstock starts USA.

           ♪  Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected
                 Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted

He's talking about interior states. He's looking at himself. 

LINDA: So rather than signing about how the world has changed since the Trump election, he's reflecting on how he's changed.

BOBBY: I think that's a good way to put it. Listen to this verse:

           ♪  Man in a crossover with his family
                 Sketched in decals on the window smiling
                 Driving parallel in the lane beside me
                 Oh, it doesn’t matter now
                 But please be honest
                 Tell me was it you?

And I don't know about you, Linda, but I can really relate to that. I really understand the feeling of just going about my daily life and seeing people and wondering, "Are you one of the people that voted that way?" And as a small P.S., I don't think you have to have Jeff Rosentock's politics to feel that way. I think we live in a very bifurcated political environment now where anybody can relate to that. I also like the line that says, I promise I won't hate you, I just need to know. I get the impression that he's not trying to identify enemies, he's just trying to understand what's happening in our country. Again, his focus is not exterior, it's interior.

LINDA: Do you think he's being evasive, like he's not really telling us exactly how he feels so he can maybe appeal to a bigger audience?

BOBBY: Well, maybe. I think he doesn't want to alienate people out of hand, but I also think it's pretty clear where he falls on the political spectrum. He is definitely not happy about what's going on with the Trump presidency. But I think he's artful enough to understand that his message will have more appeal if it's a little more nuanced. Take, for example, Track 6: TV Stars.

LINDA: That's one of my favorites.

BOBBY: The main refrain in that song goes like this: 

           ♪  TV stars don't care about who you are

And notice that he isn't mentioning Trump, but you get the sense that maybe he is saying, "If you think a billionaire TV star cares about you, you are sadly mistaken. But again, in much of the song, Rosenstock is really looking at himself. Take, for example, this first verse: 

           ♪  I can't play piano all that well
                 Like I'm fine, I can get away with it
                 If I'm acting like I'm drunk on stage
                 And you're shocked that I'm playing anything
                 I'll get away with it, I'll get away with it

LINDA: What's he saying there? 

BOBBY: I think he's saying I understand celebrity because I'm a minor celebrity myself. I can be really unprofessional, show up drunk on stage, and my fans will still be pretty forgiving because they've got something invested in liking me. And it's the same way with Donald Trump. 

LINDA: Like when he said he could shoot somebody and still not lose a single vote. 

BOBBY: Right, or like when the pussy-grabbing tape was leaked, but he still got elected. Rosenstock's message is deeply political, but it's also deeply personal. He's really looking at himself and what's going on within him. I really like Rosentock's songwriting approach, which brings us to a good closing point. Linda, if you had to rate this album on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate it?

LINDA: I really love this album. I think I'd rate it a nine.

BOBBY: That's pretty high. I'm a little surprised to hear that. I probably would give it a ten. I'm a little concerned that my favorite album of 2018 came out in the first week of January. But this was a really good album. And it does one of the things I love the most. Although most of this album is full of self-doubt and self-criticism, it ends in a very positive and hopeful way, which as you know, is something I really love. Let's take a quick listen to the last song, Let Them Win

           ♪  We're not going to let them win, oh no
                 We're not going to let them win, oh no, oh no
                 They're not going to win
                 They're not going to win, again, again

Thanks for listening to What's This Album About? I’m Bobby Waller,

LINDA: and I'm Linda Easton.

BOBBY: If you like what you hear, tell a friend. It will help us a lot. Join us next time when we review the brand new album by They Might Be Giants. Until then, keep your ears open,

LINDA: because the more you listen, 

BOBBY: the more you love.