The latest from Jeff Rosenstock would be a complete downer if it wasn’t so much fun to listen to. With rallying cries throughout like “The world doesn’t owe you” and “How did we go so wrong?” – HELLMODE is neither uplifting nor inspiring.
What it is, however, is an earnest piece of punk rock pie from the Tom Hanks of the genre. Rosenstock’s ability to relate across all spectrums of listeners and music fans is a testament to his dedication to sincerity and honesty. Not only does he feel relatable, he feels like someone
we all know. HELLMODE is not a perfect record, but shiny perfection is the opposite of what a Rosenstock album should be.
From its album cover to its album name, HELLMODE invokes a powerful, chaotic aesthetic that rings true throughout the record. From the first note of the opener, “WILL U STILL U?”, HELLMODE is an energetic avalanche rolling downhill. Rosenstock fittingly opens the album with quintessential raw lyricism “Will you still love me after I’ve fucked up?” From here, there’s simply no beating around the bush anywhere.
HELLMODE starts with three of its more upbeat tracks, hitting the ground running and welcoming us to his fifth album in five years. It’s an impressive career arc for Rosenstock, and to have emerged in the punk rock scene while releasing each record solely independently is remarkable. While previous releases infused humor and a self-wallowing that sat on the funnier side of pity, the playfulness is missing on HELLMODE. This lack of playful self-mockery tends to make the slower tempo songs drag – where from his catalyst album POST– until now, his trademark humor has held the pieces together.
Luckily, Rosenstock is an expert melody-maker; his ability to create and weave hooks into every corner of HELLMODE is the album’s true strength. The second track, “HEAD,” is a fireball of energy, with a wonderful vocal hook in the middle to keep everything on track. The pessimistic “FUTURE IS DUMB” morphs into a ska vibe with ease in one moment, then transforms into an epic chorus with a stripped-back guitar melody. Sure, there is ‘chaos’ all over Rosenstock’s music, but in many cases, the chaos we’re hearing is the refusal of mainstream songwriting conventions. Rosenstock will purposely play an unusual note to end the bar; verses will jitter, shake, and shift at any moment – but he incredibly can make it all fit together. Whether we are sitting in the chaos of a post-pandemic world or learning of his relationship fears that we all can relate to, the music is like the hidden structure of anarchy, producing a chaotic yet cohesive result.
HELLMODE is sincere and raw; like wounds freshly opened, the album is fearless and vulnerable in its execution. The journey is not necessarily a comfortable one, which means reaching for a second helping of a particular song might be few and far between. However, a unique artistic expression is found across the 11 songs that are difficult to find in today’s punk music. Rosenstock doesn’t appear to be slowing down – in fact, he may be speeding up. On HELLMODE, this race car of his career may not be podium-worthy, but it’s still a race worth watching.
Order HELLMODE by Jeff Rosenstock HERE
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