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Jeff Rosenstock

Oceanator

Tuesday, November 30
Show: | 8pm // Doors: | 7pm
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Jeff Rosenstock

NO DREAM is the fourth full-length from Jeff Rosenstock. It comes at a time of unparalleled chaos and confusion, division and despair, the depths of which would have been impossible to predict when much of it was being written over the course of the last few years. And yet the record feels prescient, unexpectedly and uniquely suited for this moment.

“It was feeling like a very personal record for me,” says Rosenstock, newly settled in Los Angeles after a lifetime on the opposite coast. “A lot of it was stemming from the anxiety I was feeling from the last two years, this existential crisis of wondering who I am.” Rosenstock has found himself in a surprising position. As he puts it simply: “I didn’t expect to be doing well, in my life, ever.”

After building a cult following with the acerbic ska-punk of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches and DIY heroics of Bomb the Music Industry!, Rosenstock’s first proper solo record, 2015’s We Cool?, was a step into uncharted territory, fully untethered from genre and expectation. Followed by 2016’s WORRY. and the surprise New Year’s Day launch of POST- in the early hours of 2018, Rosenstock was facing down that least punk of opportunities: a career playing music.

“I got so used to putting out records that only a few people in the punk underground liked,” he says. “And a lot of people in the punk underground also didn’t like them, either.” Except things have changed, and NO DREAM arrives with an entirely new set of expectations in an entirely new era. The greatest surprise is that Rosenstock’s deeply personal self doubt is expressed in a way that captures a universal feeling of shock and uncertainty, his own growing anxieties about his place in the world holding space for our own. “I was trying to not be afraid of using phrases that weren’t immediately clear to me, aside from how they sounded and felt, then allowing them to reveal themselves over time.”

The resulting songs would be recorded once again with Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Hard Girls, Joyce Manor) at the Atomic Garden, where Rosenstock took on mixing duties alongside Shirley for the first time. Opting to stay off the computer “even more than usual” and record to tape with outboard gear, the result is a lived-in sound that gives each song its own individual voice and organic energy. “Scram!” pulls from the overdriven guitar sound of Kerplunk in its mash-up of chugging palm mutes and Weezer melodies, while “Old Crap” mines the pop-punk of Rosenstock’s youth and dares to drop a classic “pick it up!” rallying cry.

“Music is all vocabulary – you learn new words but you don’t forget the old ones,” he says. Having taken some time away from his work as a solo artist to recalibrate and reset over the last year, Rosenstock stayed busy playing alongside Mikey Erg, recording and touring with the Bruce Lee Band, releasing a Neil Young covers record with frequent collaborator Laura Stevenson, reissuing two of his own out-of-print early albums, compiling a live album and 76 page photo book, and scoring over 80 episodes of the Cartoon Network series Craig of the Creek. In fully returning to his own voice, it’s no surprise that Rosenstock’s output has never been more eclectic, reflected across NO DREAM’s 13 songs.

Ultimately, it’s the title track, with its breakneck pivot from dreamy Mazzy Star to careening Minor Threat, that gives the album its aching heart. “You can’t help it. You can’t stop it. You see these atrocities and want it to end. But it’s not going to stop, and when that feeling sets in it’s a full-on panic freak-out.”

It may not be a hopeful message, but it’s one that ties together the sense of impending doom and gives it direction, voicing a rage that many struggle to articulate.

“I thought I had just made a record for no one,” he says. “What’s the point of feeling this way? Does it help to vocalize it?” Rosenstock’s rhetorical question is answered by NO DREAM, an accidentally universal record for a damaged, difficult time.


Oceanator

There’s a line on Oceanator’s debut full-length when Elise Okusami belts, “I think I think too much.” It’s a plainspoken yet resounding thesis for an album called Things I Never Said, which sees the NYC multi-instrumentalist hyperbolically equating early adulthood malaise with apocalyptic destruction. The type of anxieties that form when thoughts bottle up and stress gets the best of you. Throughout the record, allusions to intrusive thoughts and depression-induced stasis are weaved in between references to falling skies, rolling fires, and the possibility of the world literally falling apart. “If the sun never came up tomorrow / do you think we would even notice?” Okusami asks in “I Would Find You,” a moody ode to staying out late and sleeping until the afternoon. Or as Okusami puts it, “keeping to the shadows.”
However, while her emotional and physical solitude makes for a resilient foe, Things I Never Said is ultimately a record about finding comfort in the face of destruction. Whether it be through appreciating the little things, like “hot tea on a cold fall day / and dressing up for Halloween,” or forming a bond with someone you can mutually confide in about mental afflictions (“I told you I could never be enough / you took me by the hand / and told me you understand”).
 
Complementary to the extraordinarily direct subject matter, the songs themselves are punchy, sticky, and immediately engrossing pieces of heavy grunge-pop. The album opens with pounding power-chords that Okusami tastefully palm-mutes in order to accentuate the hook, and then lets rip by the song’s gratifying climax, adding a simple yet hooky lead riff for extra emphasis. Although she recruited a couple friends/members of the Oceanator touring band to play many of the bass and drum parts, Okusami is the sole songwriter/arranger of her music, and the instrumentation feels intimately connected with her lyrics.
“Heartbeat” is a racing power-pop cut with a joyously shreddy guitar arpeggio that perfectly translates the chest-thumping rush of being near your loved one into song. “The Sky Is Falling” is a song about being consumed by depression and witnessing everything fall down around you while you remain stuck in a state of paralysis. In it, Okusami’s voice is cleverly quiet, stark, and resigned as the chaotic, walloping guitars thrash and burn around her. One of the record’s standouts, “A Crack In The World,” breaks down into a half-tempo churn toward its end, as Okusami swears that “I’m still trying my best” despite the news on the TV. The song literally sounds like it’s spiraling down into its titular crevice, while Okusami desperately claws at the ground to keep “the skies blue anyway.”
 
There’s no concrete resolution to the album, but rather a vital reminder that love and friendship, both with others and herself, will always reign victorious in our darkest moments. The album ends with a song aptly titled, “Sunshine,” in which Okusami, backed by just her chugging guitar, details a day of venturing outside into the sun and subsequently accepting herself in solitude. “I’m okay,” she repeats a few times at the end of the track, before resolving with the renewed comfort of “on my own.” The album artwork features a cartoon sketch of Okusami sitting alone in a chair in front of a blue background that could very well be those blue skies she was fighting to maintain sight of. Her tepidly peaceful demeanor on the cover art suggests that she’s wise enough to know that this feeling won’t last forever, but that it will in fact return—echoing two of the last lines on the album: “Sometimes it gets me down / but I usually come around.”