Artist: Bomb the Music Industry!
Label: Quote Unquote
Genre: Ska Punk
Latest Spin Classic
BOMB THE MUSIC
Your twenties are kind of rough. I’m only 21, so it’s strange to feel that I can say that with any sincerity, considering I’ve hardly even left my teenage years behind. But the insecurity and uncertainty that comes with reaching that third decade of your life is undoubtedly universal. There’s a lot of anxiety surrounding the looming expectations of getting the right job, going to university, and balancing it all with a healthy and fulfilling personal life. And even if you’re set on a certain pathway, it can still feel unsure and precarious. Are you sure that you’re happy in your current line of work? Is this pathway really something that you want to dedicate years of your life to? And the most terrifying of all; are you wasting away during the most formative years of your life with no direction or end goal? Even if you can confidently answer each of those questions, they’ve no doubt intruded into the mind of most people during their twenties. And none of these anxieties are expressed better than in the work of Jeff Rosenstock.
Jeff Rosenstock has spent the majority of his life creating and distributing music, from his teenage years with The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, all the way until present day. And while his music still ruminates on themes of anxiety, manifested by societal, personal, and financial struggles, this sense of angst was captured at its most potent during his days with Bomb the Music Industry. BTMI was formed out of the ashes of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, with Rosenstock aspiring to create his own label, as well as start a collective that functioned purely off of a ‘Pay what you want’ mentality. And so, years before Radiohead would shock the world with their commercial rollout of “In Rainbows”, Bomb the Music Industry were burning free CDs and spray-painting BYO t-shirts for merchandise. They would play all-ages shows with dirt cheap ticket prices, and released every album online for free download. And while this was economically difficult to uphold, they found that people were far more willing to pay for music and merch when they weren’t being forced to. Because of this unorthodox marketing strategy, the band developed a substantial cult following, and they were able to keep Bomb the Music Industry going purely off the goodwill of their fanbase. But despite this, they still struggled financially throughout this period, and Rosenstock’s anxieties of approaching his 30s with no stable income or conventional job would feed into the band’s music more than ever with their second-last release, “SCRAMBLES”.
Drive Like Jehu
Drive Like Jehu, 2016
Written when Rosenstock was 25, “SCRAMBLES” documents this turbulent period in his life, as he struggles with maintaining a day job that he hates, while balancing it with his true passions of writing and performing music with his band. And this is all achieved through the sheer genius of his songwriting. In “Never Get Tired”, the documentary made about Bomb the Music Industry (Which is an absolute must-watch), J.T. Turret talks about Jeff’s natural ability to create music, stating that he would already be able to hear songs entirely constructed in his head before even writing them. Melodies, harmonies, lyrics, drums; everything. And hearing the end result on albums such as “SCRAMBLES”, “Vacation”, or later under his own name with “We Cool?” or “WORRY”, leads me to believe that this man is an actual musical genius. He’s probably my favourite artist ever, so there’s a fair deal of bias when I say that, but the incredible craftsmanship that Rosenstock displays in each and every one of his songs is palpable to say the least.
There’s no better example of this than in “SCRAMBLES”. While their final album, “Vacation” was a fantastic send-off, its “SCRAMBLES” that I find myself returning to almost every single day, recently. Rosenstock’s lyrical abilities are more powerful than ever here, as he details himself stumbling his way through his twenties; expressing the dichotomy of his frustrations, against the crushing expectations of adult-life, and his own lack of self-esteem in his current circumstances. ‘Fresh Attitude, Young Body’ describes this conflict perfectly. While the track is a sarcastic retaliation against endless societal pressures, it also begins to delve into Rosenstock’s own concerns, as he tumbles into a bottomless pit of anxious thoughts.
Here come the huns
Here come, here come
Rome plows! Rome plows!
Rome plows! Rome plows!"
- Here Come the Rome Plows
The song that follows, ‘Do You Compute’, is considerably more orderly from the get-go. It opens with a single, repeated guitar line, which feels almost like a palate cleanser after the onslaught of ‘Rome Plows’. And apart from some fairly discordant moments towards the middle of the track, it’s actually quite slow and restrained, with a steady beat and synchronised guitars that keep a constant, trudging tempo. However, there’s an intensity and sharpness from the instrumentals that keep the track constantly uneasy, contrasting against its metronomic rhythm. The track stretches on for about seven minutes, but it feels more like three; with an almost hypnotic quality that keeps it from ever feeling tired or diminished.
‘Golden Brown’ brings back the chaos of ‘Rome Plows’, with a similar structure and texture. The track starts off with a distorted guitar line panned to one side, which is immediately disorientating, and throws the listener slightly off before the rest of the track plunges in. It’s more immediate than the previous two tracks, sitting at only three minutes, but it’s a good length that prevents the album from falling too far into the same patterns for too long. ‘Luau’ changes things up from here, with a sprawling slow-burner that alternates between quiet moments of tension, and mesmerizing sections of repeated guitar riffs as Froberg mournfully sings about the irredeemable harm done to Hawaiian culture with the rise of colonialism and tourism. This alludes to the album’s title, which is a clear condemnation of the American attitude of pervading other cultures for self-benefit.
"Forget what you thought! Forget what you heard!
Wipe the last haole the fuck off our turf!
Aloha, aloha! Suit up!
Luau, luau! Luau, luau!"
‘Super Unison’ is another longer track, which leads to an absolutely breathtaking conclusion involving some gorgeous harmonization. It takes the formula of the rest of the album; heavily distorted and relentless instrumentation, and creates something unexpectedly beautiful out of it. The song goes through several phases, but it’s these final moments that are definitely its highlight, as well as one of the standout moments of the entire record.
‘New Intro’ is a clear outlier within the track-listing, but this is mostly due to it acting as a foreword to the following track rather than its own statement. It’s more stripped back, atmospheric and moody than any of the other tracks, however the second half does gear up slightly in order to lead into the far harsher ‘New Math’. And while it trails off before transitioning into this next song, it begins to establish the tone of ‘New Math’, with its exceedingly militaristic sound. The track is heavy, authoritative and imposing. And like much of the material on the album, it leaves you sweaty just from listening to it.
‘Human Interest’ is, for the most part, more of the same. However, when the quality of material here is so high, that’s hardly a criticism. While it may be the only moment where the album feels as if it’s starting to re-tread ground a bit, it’s a great song that shows off some of “Yank Crime’s” best features. Incredible guitar work, aggressive drumming, immaculate production, and powerful vocals all come together perfectly here, and they’re packaged neatly into a three-minute track that keeps the album’s momentum flowing right up until its final song, ‘Sinews’.
‘Sinews’ concludes “Yank Crime” by breaking away from its formula slightly; taking its time to really build itself up slowly rather than bursting straight into torrential noise. It’s about two and a half minutes before anything particularly harsh is heard, with the song instead starting with a more laid-back introduction section made up of warm guitar licks. It does eventually ramp up, but it’s overall a far more restrained track compared to the likes of ‘New Math’, or ‘Rome Plows’. The song finishes, like many others on the album, with the rather apt ringing out of feedback, and the record then ends.
“Yank Crime” is a masterpiece, and should absolutely be considered one of the great classics of the 1990s, as well as a seminal post-hardcore and math rock album. While it’s a shame nothing else ever came of Drive Like Jehu, members Rick Froberg and John Reis would later go on to form the band Hot Snakes, which bares many similarities to its spiritual predecessor. And while Drive Like Jehu is all but finished, it’s still an interesting thought of what the band could have created together if they had made another record. Despite a brief touring reunion from 2014-2016, they decided not to create any new material together to follow up “Yank Crime”. However, in a way, the short-lived nature of the band may have been what made the music so great. They came, made an extraordinary record, and then left before they even had the chance to follow up with anything even slightly underwhelming. Just like Slint did with “Spiderland”, and Jeff Magnum did with “Aeroplane”. Almost thirty years later, “Yank Crime” has managed to remain one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re in for a treat.
Written By Layton Bryce - 09/01/2021