Jeff Rosenstock: Hellmode

Genre: Punk Revival
Label: Polyvinyl
Release Year: 2023
Listen: Spotify / Apple Music

Jeff Rosentstock is a funny dude. A guy who is kind of an anti-industry musician. A Jewish dude from Long Island who makes seemingly tongue-in-cheek punk music and unabashedly likes and records ska tunes. He’s NOFX, but he’s also a modern-day pop-punk troubadour. An ADHD singer songwriter. Not to diagnose him or anything, but he could clearly write a wonderful, radio-friendly pop song if he wanted to. Or a lovely acoustic freak folk tune. And you can especially see that in this album, his poppiest thing he’s done ever. But instead of leaning into that, he almost bristles against it, and his active brain tells him he has to zag just when things get a little too calm. Or too normal. Speed up, break down. Which, honestly, is what makes Rosenstock, and this album, so much fun.

Gang sung choruses: why doesn’t everyone do them always? Sure, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll hallmark. But Rosenstock really employs them well on this record. Using the building energy to really punch up his tunes. And, honestly, I don’t know if it’s just him quadrupling his voice or what, but when you kind of come to last quarter of a song and the yelled chorus builds a bottom and top end it’s super effective to end songs with a bang. Especially on this record, which is noisy without being monolithic. The drums are clear and active. The guitars are feedbacky and full of grit, but also soaring in parts. Even keys make an appearance. It’s all harmonious and the kind of punk version of early Weezer shines through on songs like “Soft Living.”

And then there’s the actual softer side of Jeff Rosenstock. I mean the dude is always tough on himself, painting himself as a perpetual fuck up outsider. But what punk rocker doesn’t? Though I’m pretty sure he’s a dude who regularly performs in jorts and a tank top. Just to give you an idea of who you’re dealing with here. He kind of looks like a more homeless version of Pod Save America’s Jon Lovett. But that’s all just aesthetics. My point is, he does occasionally dial it down and get introspective — or at least acoustic. Take teen anthem “Doubt,” for instance. Granted, it’s not necessarily targeting teen angst, but it certainly comes off as a more sensitive ode to being one’s self and not being afraid to express emotions. Out loud if necessary. It’s a lovely tune that seems like it’s just going to float along a la Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” or blink-182’s “Adam’s Song,” but Rosenstock has the good sense to downshift into a more raucous, cathartic denouement that really crackles. Which, funny enough, is followed by a super-straight-ahead punk pop, ska-inflected tune, “Future Is Dumb,” that could have been straight off of a Green Day record. Anyhow, the softer side. Or, rather, the acoustic-ish side. Rosenstock does have some ditties toward the end of the record. “Life Admin,” reminds me a lot of some of Devonté Hynes’ Lightspeed Champion stuff I used to rock constantly back in 2010. The point is, Rosentstock is varied in his approach, keeps the hits coming, and all of it is excellent.