Jeff Rosenstock: HELLMODE (Polyvinyl) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, July 18th, 2024  

Jeff Rosenstock

HELLMODE

Polyvinyl

Sep 08, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Jeff Rosenstock’s status as a figure of cult adoration on the underground punk scene has long since been cemented. HELLMODE is his fifth studio album since abandoning Bomb The Music Industry! and The Arrogant Sons of Bitches monikers a decade ago. As a multi-instrumentalist with a keen ear for a power-pop melody, Rosenstock is able to take challenging and contentious lyrical subjects and wrap them in ear candy tunes which delight as they edify, empower as they amuse.

Frantically eloquent and deceptively complex, songs such as the droning, spiraling “SOFT LIVING” sprinkle absurd imagery (“Aaron Carter in a Target screaming/‘Is it a mistake?’”) into a maelstrom of modern anguish: “What’s it gonna take/To guide the brush fires to eradicate/Every single trace of these/Scumfuck white supremacist shitlords?”

These themes of ecological terror and righteous anger recur throughout, “FUTURE IS DUMB” offering “The rain doesn’t fall by the end of the day/And I’ll continue to have nothing to say” alongside the sadly perceptive “It’s weird that we’ve become numb to it/We’ve grown accustomed to the fear” as a rampaging guitar tears out of a wait-for-it breakdown return that’s typical to genre, but here serves as a genuine release.

Continuing along these lines is the drum machine drive of double-time screamer “HEAD,” which boasts an obnoxiously addictive hook to sugar the pill of lines like “Currently it’s obvious there are no fair elections/There is no constitution and there is no bill of rights.”

Rosenstock speaks plainly, clearly, and with sad humor on the more intensely personal songs here. “LIFE ADMIN” deals with his embarrassment over leading a comfortable life and “…living with the fear/That anyone will find out how I live/Having barbecues out on the deck,” while “3 SUMMERS” takes a Sonic Youth-like riff and, while it deals in old school emo cliche at times— “Stay young until you die”—it’s heartfelt, thrilling, and punches a hole in both his and society’s hypocrisies: “Don’t you pretend/The world is treating us all equal/When a person can starve as another one/Hops in a Lyft Plus to JFK.”

Softer approaches on “HEALMODE,” a humble love song, and “GRAVEYARD SONG” provide a tender respite from the punk deluge. Rosenstock seems simultaneously stoic, beaten, and strangely hopeful, the latter stating “Fuck building bridges/Everybody start diggin’/A graveyard for the things that need to die,” which somehow encapsulates all three emotions. “DOUBT” is a further standout, all Peter Buck arpeggios and reverb shimmer.

It’s key to note that the album is packed with fierce, anthemic moments and driving, energizing riffs that absolutely rage from the speakers, none more so than on “LIKED U BETTER,” an anguished but self-aware cousin to some of Pup’s finer songs.

HELLMODE is an exciting and intelligent album, perhaps Rosenstock’s most compelling since 2016’s wonderful Worry, and it’s as timely as it anthemic, which is to say, very. It requests your full attention, inspires thought and discussion long after each listen and, for those who just want to start a pit and throw a punk rock party, well, it can do that too. (www.jeffrosenstock.bandcamp.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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