It’s almost midnight on a Saturday in the summer, and I live in New York City. I’m still in my 30s and I don’t have to get up early tomorrow. By anyone’s standards, I should be heading out for the night; dancing, drinking, meeting up with old friends,
making new friends, making mistakes, and feeling young in a city that allows you to remain young despite your age growing higher. I should be out there living.
Instead, I just put a load of laundry in the machine in my building’s basement. I’m wearing a pair of green shorts and I feel like an asshole in them. I have knobby knees and shorts don’t look good on me. I am wearing a light green tshirt and the whole outfit makes me vaguely feel like a middleaged man dressed up for his first day of kindergarten. I am going nowhere tonight, and I suspect this may apply in the long term as well.
This seems like the perfect time to write about Jeff Rosenstock.
Because no one I’ve ever met creates art that encapsulates this state of mind more than Jeff. It’s music that’s catchier than any other music, music you can scream along to in a joyous frenzy. But simultaneously, if you really listen to the lyrics you’re shouting, they can speak to a loneliness and desperation so profound it’s soul crushing. I’ve lost myself in joy to Jeff’s songs and I’ve sat alone depressed to Jeff’s songs, and I’ve felt both those things to the same song, sometimes on back to back listens.
Nobody can take the exhilaration and possibilities of life and balance them with the depression of a laundry room on a Saturday night like Jeff Rosenstock. His music can be like a funeral taking place inside a bouncy house, or like a kids’ birthday party taking place inside a morgue. I say that with the utmost sincerity and the intent to offer only the highest of praise.
If you’re reading this, you probably know the legend of Jeff Rosenstock by now. The Arrogant Sons of Bitches had Long Island’s attention, and then mutated into Bomb the Music Industry, a collection of musicians that were among the first to just give their music away, that spray painted tshirts for fans, that did everything in a way that was financially illadvised and built a cult unlike any other in the process. Sometimes their shows had a dozen musicians on stage, sometimes it was Jeff and an ipod. No matter what, there was always one thing that remained the same – this band had as much integrity as Fugazi with none of the pretension but with all the emotion but with a lot more fun and also I have to reiterate none of the pretension. To me it seems like Bomb was like Fugazi if the members of Fugazi had been willing to let down their guards and laugh at fart jokes. Again, this is meant as high praise. I really like Fugazi and am not trying to talk shit, it’s just an apt metaphor.
When Bomb ended, Jeff was left standing in a lonely spotlight and we all wondered if he’d be ok. Instead of even giving us time to find out, he put out We Cool? and showed us all what growing up looks like. Growing up fucking sucks, but it’s not for melodramatic reasons. It sucks because your joints start hurting and you know you probably aren’t gonna get some of the things done that you’ve always promised yourself you’re gonna get done and you still have a lot of guilt about dumb shit you pulled when you were like 19. We Cool? showed us that Jeff Rosenstock’s version of growing up wasn’t going to betray Bomb or its fans or the things people loved about them, it was going to put a magnifying glass on his own impulses and insecurities as an individual in a way that was both shockingly frank and impossibly catchy.
Jeff’s music, if you ask me, is for people who really and truly feel like they could change the world, if only they could muster up the strength to leave the fucking house. It’s for people who get into group situations and have every instinct inside their heads scream that the world is a fucked up and terrifying place and they should crumble up into a corner and wait to die, but who instead dance like idiots because what the fuck else is there to do? It’s music that makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, if I do things the right way I can help make the world a better place, while coexisting with the knowledge that I don’t fucking matter and there’s no reason not to give up, except maybe I shouldn’t because what if deep down people are actually beautiful, giving, and kind?
It’s music that makes me lose myself like I used to when I was 13 and first discovered the joy of punk rock, but it’s also music that makes me think way too fucking hard about why the world is how it is and if I might be someone with enough heart to throw a few punches in the effort to make shit just a tiny bit better for others for one fucking second of one fucking day.
It’s simple punk rock. It’s also complicated and beautiful and working class and perfect.
Is the above a little cheesy? Sure. But I think it’s true and I think it’s all worth saying. Because having become friends with Jeff over the past few years, I can say the following with great certainty – he actually is what he says he is. And because of that, all the above applies. His integrity is untouchable. We all need to take a second and appreciate how much time this guy has wasted finding all ages venues. How much money he has passed on to retain his credibility as an artist. If other artists – myself chief among them – conducted themselves with an ounce of the integrity Jeff approaches all areas of art and life with, the world would be a better place.
I know this might sound silly to people who don’t get it – they might say “It’s just punk rock, calm down.” – but fuck those people, we all know Jeff is a musical genius. If he wanted to go ghost write songs for Taylor Mars and Bruno Swift, I bet he could make millions of dollars doing so. Music is easy for him. He could write empty songs and hand them off to hollow artists and we all know he’d kill it and he wouldn’t have to deal with shaking down shady promoters for a few hundred bucks or driving overnight to get to the next venue or stressing about paying bills or any of it. He continues to not do any of that easy shit and that’s because he’s not bullshitting about doing things not just the right way, but in a way that’s more idealistic than reality actually allows for. He does that for us.
The guy is a genius poet while simultaneously being the definition of a fucking goon from Long Island. There is nothing not to love. The album you are about to listen to, WORRY., only furthers and exceeds the myth of Jeff Rosenstock, he who is mythical for being the most normal dude from a boring place any of us have ever met; mythical for sticking to his guns when all logic points in the other direction; mythical for writing melodies that stick in our brains and lyrics that rip our guts out; mythical most of all for being not mythical at all. He’s just Jeff. It’s not that complicated. But in a world where everything is driven by branding and image and hidden agendas, being not that complicated makes him perhaps the most complicated artist I know.
Enjoy this album. Enjoy it as a whole. The second half is going to blow your mind with its ambitiousness – in my opinion the second half of this album will be viewed over time as a triumph and high water mark of a cool ass career. And the singles – “Wave Goodnight to Me” is untouchable. “Blast Damage Days” will make you feel ok about the fact that the world seems to be built on a foundation of quicksand.
And when you’re done listening, don’t forget – you probably can’t change the world, but you’re kind of a dick if you don’t at least try. Jeff’s been falling on the sword for the rest of us for years and it’s on all of us to at least go down swinging.
PS – John DeDomenici ain’t bad either.
Laura Stevenson is finally learning not to worry. After more than a year of national and worldwide touring following the release of her critically acclaimed album Wheel, both headlining, and alongside such varied acts as Against Me!, The Go-Go’s, Kevin Devine, Tim Kasher of Cursive, and The Gaslight Anthem, the songwriter made the move from her between-tour home base of Brooklyn, to upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley. There, she rented a nineteenth- century Victorian, a former brothel in a cement-mining town-turned hippie-enclave, and converted the attic into a makeshift studio. It was in this space that she and her band went to work arranging and demoing the eleven songs she had written that would make up Cocksure, Stevenson’s fourth album. The record features musicians Mike Campbell, Alex Billig and Peter Naddeo, who in various incarnations have performed with her for over seven years, as well as newcomer Samantha Niss, a long-time Hudson Valley resident and the veritable go-to drummer of the region.
Where 2013’s Wheel was full of lingering uncertainty, harkening to Stevenson’s folk and country leanings, Cocksure is a straightforward, to the point, emboldened rock and roll album. Although some existential dread still peaks through the cracks, Stevenson treats themes as heavy-hearted as sudden and tragic death, self-imposed exile in small windowless rooms, and that back-of-your- mind anxiety that the road you’re on may not be the right one, as their own signs of life; a life that is brightly colored by those realities.
With influences ranging from The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, and The Replacements, to early Weezer and the Smoking Popes, Cocksure maintains Stevenson’s unique vulnerability, and steadfast devotion to a solid and honest melody. In the writing process, she challenged herself to be true to whatever was going to come out of her, with many of the tracks featuring melodies that were purely stream of consciousness. “I felt like over-working it would suck some of the spirit out of the songs… this record needed that spontaneity. Spending so much time editing and second guessing yourself takes all the life out of it.”
This sense of spontaneity was maintained in the way Cocksure was recorded. In May of 2015, Stevenson and her band traveled city-bound to Room 17, a studio located in her old neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s this very positive and amazing space, and Joe Rogers, the engineer, was so enthusiastic about what we were doing. Everyone was comfortable enough to just really play and not get caught up in anything else.” All the main instrumentation on Cocksure was performed live, no clicks/no punches, under the watchful eyes of Rogers and producer Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson’s long-time friend and collaborator. “Jeff was the perfect person for the job. All of his Bomb The Music Industry! and solo recordings have this energy to them, they’re like living things. I wanted to capture some of the magic he has.” The album was later mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Joyce Manor, Deafheaven, Tony Molina) at Atomic Garden Studios in Palo Alto, CA.
Self-assurance is a new hat for Stevenson, and on Cocksure she confronts her usual tendencies toward self-deprecation head-on. “It’s freeing to stop being so hard on yourself, and to quiet down all of the outside noise,” she says. “Once you’re able to do that, you can actually write what you should be writing.”
Chris Farren is one of those names that is always on the tip of your tongue. Though he’s been heavily involved in music for years —and he’s become wellknown for his inventive merch, including his take on the classic The Smiths shirt — Farren is still working on breaking out in the large world of singersongwriters. After experimenting and honing his solo work on a few memorable EPs and a Christmas album called Like A Gift From God or Whatever, Farren is ready to release his full length Can’t Die. With it, he’s poised to become known on his own terms and with his own unique sound.
“I definitely wanted to make something that wouldn’t just sound like another Fake Problems record,” says Farren. “ I wanted to make something that was poppier and a little less aggressive — but still energeticand entertaining. Lyrically, there’s some sadness involved but I didn’t want it to be a bummer to listen to.” The result is a clever blend of pop and gloom, the sort of record that will keep you dancing even when the lyrics cut deep. Farren, who cited Coconut Records, Belle & Sebastian, and Magnetic Fields as his influences while recording can’t Die, has crafted a record that has a true indie-pop sensibility and remains musically upbeat throughout.
Yet there is an undeniable sadness to certain tracks as well as a heavy focus on death and mortality. “Like any human, I reached an age where I realized I was going to die,” Farren says. “Until I was 25 or something, I had like heard I was going to die but once I turned 25, something just clicked in my head. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going to die’ and I had a crazy hard time with it for some reason.” For Farren, who has always worked through dark times through songs, it was only natural to channel these feelings into his solo album. Take a track like “Until I Can I Can See The Light,” which was partly inspired by the death of Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels, as well other people in his life who have passed away. It’s about “how weird it is that they’re gone. You don’t get to talk to them anymore.”
However, Can’t Die explores plenty of other topics, too. In “Say U Want Me,” Farren touches upon insecurity in a relationship and how it doesn’t necessarily go away with time. “That song is just about worrying about being a burden to somebody that cares for you because you’re so childlike or weak ... I just worry about being a drag on somebody else that I really care for.” The song, like all of the songs on can’t Die , is a refreshingly honest and relatable track: Farren is open about the anxieties and insecurities that plague his daily life, whether it’s worrying about being too much to a partner or just trying to act normal enough to fit in with your fellow human beings. In fact, the aptly titled “Human Being” reflects that common feeling of being, well, just different. “I can be very outgoing in certain situations but if I’m out of my comfort zone or of I’m in a place with a bunch of people I don’t know — like a ny party that I’ve ever been to — I always feel like a total weirdo freak,” Farren admits. It’s a fun, poppy track that accurately captures the vicious anxiety circle of feeling like you should go out but then getting there and realizing it’s not for you. And then doing it all again later on.
Considering this aversion to crowded parties, it’s no surprise that recording can’t Die was a fairly solitary affair for Chris Farren. It’s a truly DIY album; “I wanted to produce my own record. I wanted to engineer my own record. I’d had a lot of ideas, sonically, that I felt like maybe if I brought in another producer, [they] would be like, ‘Oh, that’s wrong. That doesn’t sound right’.” Instead, Farren went with his gut, sometimes even making mistakes but leaving them in because he thought it sounded cool. (“Weirdo artist garbage,” he laughs.) The album was recorded in a guest room — one where he’d have to shut off the air conditioner whenever it was time to record — that didn’t even have real soundproofing. In fact, you can even hear dogs barking outside in the background. can’t Die manages to simultaneously have a lo-fi sound that’s still incredibly rich. It helps that Farren enlists the help of some of his friends on the record — Sean Stevenson on drums, Casey Lee on guitar, Jeff Rosenstock and Matt Agrella adding horn arrangements, and Laura Stevenson contributing vocals. Farren’s friends helped make can’t Die surpass Farren’s original vision. “It just took it to a place I could’ve never imagined.”
At the end of the day, however, can’t Die is a record that is wholly reflective of Chris Farren’s sound. It’s not Fake Problems or Antarctigo Vespucci but instead it’s entirely Farren’s: resonating indie-pop that captures all of the weird little anxieties of being in your twenties and realizing that you can’t control everything around you. “Once I got past that ego-driven stuff and realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around me, it was a lot easier for me to get through the world,” says Farren. “It’s heavy! It’s a heavy world.” That’s true, but can’t Die adds some lightness, resulting in a record that makes listeners happy while also recognizing that it’s OK to be sad sometimes.
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