If I had to pick one word to describe this album in its entirety (that isn’t plastered on the cover) I’d have to pick “Anxiety.” There is anxiety scattered in just about every single song on this album, and if it isn’t clear in any others, the underlying feeling of, for lack of a better word, dread is certainly evident, as it lingers across the whole 38-minute runtime.
And I assure you, that is a compliment.
Native Long Islander, Jeff Rosenstock has had quite a career and quite a life that he puts out on display for all to see with deeply personal projects such as last year’s widely acclaimed We Cool? It doesn’t seem right to measure one albums effectiveness by comparing it to its predecessor so I will not be doing so. What this review will say on the matter is that Worry. had some pretty big shoes to fill, if you know what I mean.
This record takes a lot of similar themes from Jeff’s album prior but changes the placement of the camera, so to speak. In the former, the lens faces inward, whereas in the latter we see the outward motivation behind the anxiety AS WELL AS that classic Rosenstock introspection that helped cement his fans personal relationship to him in the first place.
This record is technically and musically raw and powerful, like a freight train to the head, as well as all over the place like your head after being hit by a freight train. One second we have a classic power-pop anthem, next comes a mile-a-minute ska-punk banger, and then some synthy, electro pop punk and a medley of seamlessly brewed together genres and sounds. It’s almost as if we’re walking down a supermarket and every few isles someone is handing us a free sample of some other product and by the end we have this cumulative concoctive taste in our mouths that shouldn’t be working together as well as they are, and so we circle around the store to give each one another try and make sure our mind isn’t tricking us. Spoiler alert, it isn’t, it’s just a really well-made album.
On first glance this is a pumped up, punked up, gang-vocal heavy, anthemic, collection of songs that make you want to wave your fist in the air and fracture your larynx while scaring the person in the car next to you because you’re both at a red light. Upon further investigation, it’s still all of those things, and much much more. What Rosenstock pulls off with this record is the “perfect” packaging to deliver the really good stuff, that is the highly conceptualized, analyzed, introspection and extrospection of one man’s attempt to use his own psyche to illustrate the average working class American citizens fears and anxieties about the future state of the world in which we live, and by god is it a successful attempt, if I’ve ever seen one.
Alright, enough trying to vaguely describe the inner workings of this album, let’s get into specifics.
First off, that anxiety. One cannot talk about this album without talking about the deeply relatable lyrics that paint such a vivid picture. Even if you don’t relate, you’ll feel like you do. So, let’s go through one by one to see what these songs are saying.
First we have the opener, “We Begged 2 Explode,” in which Rosenstock begins a slow piano ballad, lamenting on the overwhelming nature of change and our paradoxical natural tendency to resist it, especially when thinking of those relationships that we cherish even though we know they will most likely not stay the same and in most cases will fade away without so much as a warning. Rosenstock does something clever by coming back to this idea later, with a less grim outlook, or perhaps a solution to this problem.
Next, we have “Pash Rash” which begins with a lo-fi acoustic recording that quickly fades into a cleaner, more polished sound. One could say this is symbolic of Jeff’s rise from a DIY singer-songwriter to a higher-paid, more commercially known front man.
After that comes the single Festival Song where yet another anxiety-inducing paradox comes into play, one that Jeff might have only been able to write in his older, wiser years. He sings about the tugging in two directions, the first being the desire to seem genuine to fans (and to himself) while the other sees Jeff supporting corporate America by playing at a sponsored music festival. He screams “Unite against the establishment” while the establishment is exactly what united all of them there in the first place. The establishment now capitalizes on their own negative image, and somehow it all works. This idea of “selling out” isn’t necessarily state-of-the-art but it really hasn’t seemed all that present in music lately, even among those punk bands who are supposed to be against that sort of thing. Rosenstock really sheds light on the subject in a provocative and fresh way, as if we’d never known this was an issue. The way he uses word play to paint a vivid image almost demands further inspection, describing “department store crust-punk-chic” or a “sweatshop denim jacket” or chanting that “they wouldn’t be your friend if you weren’t worth something.” Jeff gives us a fresh voice for a not-so-fresh issue that really makes you want to march and chant and riot. Of course, you won’t because then some company will make a hashtag or a meme out of it to make a profit.
A few songs delve into the area of financial anxiety and the changing of your surroundings, something that, unfortunately, the majority of this country has been feeling in recent years. Jeff sings, in “Staring Out the Window of Your Old Apartment,” about having to move out of your home because you can’t afford it anymore in the gentrifying city. The city, as an organism, doesn’t have the time to deal with you. “The city don’t care if you live or die/ It’s just gonna grow and it doesn’t care/ Why you’re tired of kicking and fighting through life.” In the fast-paced, ska-punk jam Rainbows, Jeff pleads, “Please don’t take my love away! My home from me today!” On the songs “Wave Goodnight to Me” Jeff discusses the gentrification of New York areas that cast out the locals because the cost of living continues to rise. The song is angry with a sense of inferiority as people shout at Jeff, “come on, come on, get out of here!” You can literally feel Jeff being pushed out of town by a mob of rich guys in designer suits. This is Jeff taking a stand on an issue affecting many the only way that he knows how, through music and through poetic lyrics such as, “wave goodnight to the sleepless city too tired to fight. They’re pushing you out in the name of progress and selling your memories to the tourists.”
Of course, no album about anxiety would be complete without at least one song about unrequited love or in this case the constant paranoia that no one likes you. “The dream” that Jeff describes turns into a nightmare as he feels the suspicion that the person he’s in bed with will be gone when he wakes up. At some point, we might all have felt this way. The most poignant line comes up when Jeff asks, “is there someone thinking of me when I’m feeling alone?” Many of these songs touch upon relationships of all kinds and talk about how, in this internet-age of ours, a true genuine connection with someone shouldn’t mean a match on Tinder and those real human moments become even more treasured because they’re so rare.
Blast Damage Days gives us a glimpse of optimism overcoming an extreme amount of pessimism. Jeff tells us that we need love in a time where the world appears to be falling to shit. With police brutality (as also discussed on the song The Fuzz), corruption, distortion of the news on TV, etc. Yeah, things are really bad but “when our towns fall to the ground, oh, it won’t shatter me and you.”
Planet Luxury brings us back to that financial stability problem that the U.S. faces as of late and preaches how the “American dream,” that if you work hard you can be successful, has been a completely lie or at the very least is not an option in today’s economy.
The last two songs close the album on a surprisingly uplifting note. For a record that remained consistently bleak and cynical for 15 straight songs, we finally get the solution to the problem raised all the way back in the opener. For those who don’t remember, the problem was how do we deal with the inevitable loss of everything we’ve come to love about our lives in the present? Whether it be the drifting of friendship or love, the loss of a home, or the mother of them all, death. The answer, to put it in Jeff’s words; “I wanna let you know while you’re alive.” We shouldn’t wait for someone’s death to be there for them. We should find those that we love right now, hold them, dance with them, and let them know they’re alive. In the final song, Perfect Sound Whatever, Jeff gives a “perfect” finale by telling us that perfection doesn’t exist. We’re all anxious about the present and probably even more so about the future, so what if you fail? So what if you lose your home because the city is changing, so what if you’re selling out, so what that the country and the world is falling to pieces, as long as we all ensure that everyone else that we love (or even those whom we don’t) know that they’re alive, maybe we can all start to worry a little less.
The level of cohesion and coherence, as well as the way Jeff is able to collect all of these thoughts into a comprehensible, relatable fashion truly feels like watching a master at work. Few artists can piece together as complex themes as these, and incorporate as many styles of music as fluidly and effectively as Jeff Rosenstock has on this album.