“Hellmode” – Jeff Rosenstock Album Review
Written by mccormacke1 on September 16, 2023
Review By Aidan Smith
There are so many wonderful things to say about Jeff Rosenstock. We could begin by talking about the prolific body of work and wild creative energy he has, or we could begin by talking about his “day job,” composing the critically acclaimed soundtrack for Cartoon Network’s “Craig of The Creek.” However, what I think may be most important to mention is Rosenstock’s history as a musician.
His transformation from teenaged Long Island DIY punk rocker to critically acclaimed, wildly-celebrated guy. The people who get Jeff seem to really understand what he’s all about. Frankly, since his 2016 album Worry, a blistering and gargantuan indictment of the political landscape en masse, Jeff’s worked to create politically charged punk anthems with all the eccentricities of punk legends like Green Day or, even further back, Elvis Costello.
His 2020 project No Dream moves at a mile a minute, careening through Rosenstock’s anxious jumble of thoughts as he jumps from one internal personal battle to the next. He cites issues from the effects of late-stage capitalism, to anxiety that a beach day might get rained out. No Dream precurses this year’s Hellmode almost perfectly. On tracks here, Rosenstock sounds somewhat relaxed- woah.
The track “HEALMODE” is a plucky, folky, ode to rest and relaxation, peace and quiet, and the California rain, is a change of pace; albeit a welcome one. That’s not to say that the lyrical content found on Hellmode is by any means light, “HEALMODE” itself is layered in the existential anguish that “it will be another fourteen months before it really rains.”
The album opens with the charging and anthemic track “WILL U STILL U” which asks the age old question: “Will you still love me after I’ve f-ed up?” The track doesn’t answer the question necessarily, but in true Rosenstock fashion features a twinkly, bubbly melody over classically sporadic one liners, such as “will you transcend time and space so you can punch my stupid face.” The nerves are palpable, it’s Jeff’s bread and butter at this point, but, ironically, throughout Hellmode he remains the most consistently constructive he’s ever been.
He asks, “how’re you gonna cut loose the doom you’ve got glued to the roof of your skull” on the second single “DOUBT,” a bursting anthem about combating anxiety; “You’ve gotta chill out with the doubt, the doubt, the doubt” he chants.
It’s hyper-awareness that kills, and Jeff knows that, it’s why on “LIFE ADMIN” he admits his financial freedom forces a sense of distance from his old life, his hobbies have changed, and his world now can become a place of refuge – blissfully ignorant refuge at that. The airy guitar and makeshift percussion add to this light, breezy track.
Themes of doom, misunderstanding and hopelessness are taken a step further on the anthemic “GRAVEYARD SONG” where he professes that somethings need to change: “F-k building bridges/ everybody start digging/ a graveyard for the things that need to die.” This sardonic, hyper-aware character that Rosenstock voices transcends this record from a well produced pop-punk album to focused and dense forty minutes with something to say.
It’s increasingly impressive how Jeff steers clear of heavy handed cheesiness, but that’s just not on brand for him – somehow everything flows perfectly, crunching riffs to bubbly melodies that are full of life. Hellmode is easily one of the best albums of the year.
Image from Amazon.com