Long Island songwriter's new record encourages chill time before rising up to fight back
It's not uncommon to wake up on New Year's Day feeling slightly askew, plagued by a foggy brain and a nagging series of questions: What happened? How did we get here? And what do we do now?
This is precisely the sensation Long Island singer-songwriter Jeff Rosenstock captures on his third solo album, POST- (Polyvinyl), which he released, appropriately, on Jan. 1 of this year.
“When I was writing it, I had the idea of people being hungover and confused and in a bit of a haze,” said Rosenstock, who visits Ace of Cups for a concert on Tuesday, May 1. “This is a bit of an emotionally hazy record, I feel, and that [release date] just felt appropriate to me.”
As with New Year's Day, the release of POST- was preceded by a blur of action. In order to meet the Dec. 12 deadline given by the label to meet his self-imposed Jan. 1 ship date, Rosenstock and his bandmates were forced to record the album's 10 tracks during a whirlwind eight-day session between tour dates.
But while certain songs reflect this manic pace (“Powerlessness,” for one, is a pogoing, two-and-a-half minute power-pop burner), POST- is filled with more open sonic pastures than the typical Rosenstock album. Fist-pumping chants give way to atmospheric passages on the epic “USA,” while “9/10” finds the musician dabbling in soft-lit rock, appearing mostly absent guitar, save for a lone, tweaked-out solo.
“That song is just the first one where I felt a little more comfortable, like, ‘You know what? This doesn't have to have a big, epic build into guitars and fuzz bass exploding and a million things happening at the same time,'” Rosenstock said. “I was trying to write something different and see if I could capture the feeling I was aiming for without falling back on things I'd already done. It was seeing what we might sound like if we experimented with minimalism.”
Similar motivations informed at least part of the album-closing “Let Them Win,” which begins as a defiant rallying cry — “We're not gonna let them win,” Rosenstock chants, sounding as though he just wiped the blood from his nose and stepped back into the ring after being felled by a punch — before giving way to nearly five minutes of ambient drone.
“If somebody listens to this record, I want there to be time for them to have the record on and chill out. I listen to records at home a lot, and every time I have to get up and flip a side I feel like it interrupts my flow a little bit and there's always a little bit of silence, so I just wanted something there to let you feel like the record is allowing you to just process your fucking life and take a breath and think about whatever you want to think about, which is kind of lofty, but that's what I was thinking,” Rosenstock said. “More and more with this record I just kept coming back to the idea that the era we're in does not allow people any space to process feelings or emotions in a way they can approach life with a clear head and coherent thoughts. Everything is like ‘RAHRAHRAHRAH' all the time and I wanted to make a record that didn't feel like that, which is funny, because I think every record I make is just ‘RAHRAHRAHRAH.'”
To aid this process, Rosenstock retreated to the Catskill Mountain town of East Durham, New York, in early 2017 for writing sessions, holing up shortly after attending the inauguration protest and the Women's March, both in Washington, D.C.
“Two friends of mine have a double-wide trailer, but a very nice double-wide trailer, up there in the mountains, so I basically hauled all the shit I record demos with through the snow and just kind of vomited up a bunch of songs,” said Rosenstock, who allowed himself a mentally uncluttered writing space that eventually bled over into the record. “I ended up taking the internet off my phone, taking Twitter off my phone, taking Instagram off my phone. … I basically took everything off my phone and said, ‘All right, I'll look at the news once a day and I'll have the internet off and I'll work on these songs that have been kicking around in my head and try and figure out what all makes sense.'”
Though there is certainly a political aspect to POST- — when Rosenstock sings, “TV stars don't care about who you are” it plays like an obvious dig at a certain reality-star-turned-president — the songs appear less focused on rehashing the recent past than in finding a way forward.
“I think, for me, a lot of what I went through over and over again last year was freaking the fuck out, and then whenever I would have time to reflect on it, being like, ‘OK, well then what?'” Rosenstock said. “I've started to grow really exhausted of screaming — not literally — but I've grown exhausted with screaming about shit without having a solution. A lot of the record is about that frustration, but I also wanted it to feel like getting knocked down, sitting there with fucking spirals in your eyes, stars circling above your head, a big ol' lump sticking out of the top of your skull, and then getting back up again. That was important to me, for sure, because it's important to get up again and to fight back.”