Jeff Rosenstock: ‘We Cool?’ Album Review

Side One Dummy Records
Side One Dummy Records

The breakup of Jeff Rosenstock‘s old band, Bomb the Music Industry!, back in 2012, was a huge blow to many fans, especially coming off the heels of Vacation, which many consider to be the group’s opus. It’s been a long time since we’ve had another Rosenstock-fronted project (he took the backseat on 2013 and 2014’s Antarctigo Vespucci EPs) – four years, in fact. Luckily, We Cool? is worth the wait and then some, a grand reintroduction that continues down the path Rosenstock blazed on Vacation with some new influences thrown in. It’s not a stretch or premature to call We Cool? one of Rosenstock’s best ventures to date, and it’s entirely possible this will go down as his greatest release ever.

Rosenstock’s always been known for his powerful lyrics, which somehow carry both a casual air and an incredibly heavy emotional weight; extremely autobiographically, he possesses a unique ability in songwriting to convey both humor and misery in the same line. He’s rarely been in finer form than he is now, telling tales of the loneliness and ennui of thirty-year-old life. On opener, “Get Old Forever,” he watches his friends buying themselves houses with their own money and attends his best friend’s wedding while all he wants to do is drink and play around.

You, In Weird Cities” finds him “always getting high when no one is around,” feeling dissatisfied with every aspect of his life. There’s always the faintest glimmer of hope, though, as he sings in the former, “We’ll all get old forever / we’ll all get old together.” The song’s title line is the album’s thesis statement: “we’re all alone and miserable, but we’re going to get through together.” 

He reaches new levels of realism on the album’s highlight, “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry.” For a man known for writing hard-hitting punk songs, “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” is still a monumental accomplishment. Its fragile verses tell two stories concurrently: one of a friend whose boyfriend died in a car crash, the other of a friend’s diagnosis with an unspecified terminal illness. He warns of the dangers of taking loved ones for granted before a massive singalong hook in which he condemns his own inability to cure all their suffering. The song’s bridge proves the best moment on the album, with Rosenstock letting loose and delivering the album’s most poignant lyrics. 

“I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” also serves as an adequate sampler of everything We Cool? has to offer, sonically. These songs are all dynamic, with quiet verses that build to infectious choruses. Occasionally, these shifts get a bit awkward, like on “Novelty Sweater,” which is a bit too weird, especially for coming in at only track three. On the upside, those fans who felt there wasn’t enough ska present on later BTMI! albums will be glad to know Rosenstock’s brought back the brass for a couple of songs. He makes more liberal use of piano as well, most notably on single “Nausea,” an undeniably groovy track. 

All things considered, We Cool? is a spectacular, spectacular album. But what else would we expect from Jeff Rosenstock, who’s nothing if not consistent? And this contains everything he does best: it’s a diverse set of songs with nearly uncomfortably honest lyricism and sky-scraping choruses, and it’s all of these things perhaps done better than he’s ever done before. Sure, it’s only March, but this very well may be your album of the year.