Title: N O D R E A M
Artist: Jeff Rosenstock
Label: Polyvinyl Record Co.
Genre: Pop Punk
Released: 20 May 2020
N O D R E A M
“I really gotta leave
But I just wanna stay
I’m only a real person for a quarter-dozen days
Until I gotta scram, until I go away
And turn into a person that I wouldn't want to be.”
Jeff Rosenstock made a huge mark on the 2010s; dropping some of the best albums of the whole decade. And from the final album in his ska-punk band Bomb the Music Industry! to his transition into solo work, he’s proved himself among the best contemporary songwriter/producers in the business. “We Cool?” and “WORRY.” were near-perfect in their ability to blend difficult themes such as mental health and social-political adversity with Rosenstock’s energy, which was often manic and disorientating. And while his third solo effort “POST-” didn’t grab me as much as his first two, his new album “NO DREAM” is one of the most explosive things to come out of this decade so far.
In fact, “NO DREAM” is so intense at times that it’s almost difficult to process; something immediately apparent from the very first track. Unlike ‘We Begged 2 Explode’ or ‘Get Old Forever’ (The opening tracks from “We Cool?” and “WORRY.” respectively), ‘NO TIME’ kicks the album off without any warning or preface. Everything about this introduction feels frantic and desperate (as the title suggests), and the sheer panic that it exhibits is a great opening statement to the rest of the album. Although it has various moments of composure throughout, “NO DREAM” feels very much like a successor to “WORRY.” with its focus on Jeff’s constant battle against his own mental health, while struggling to balance this with all the other shit in the world at the moment. It’s like sensory overload in the form of an album, and it’s great.
The second song, ‘nikes (alt)’, does a great job of expressing this inner conflict. Jeff talks about his own struggle with anxiety, and his attempts to try and relinquish it by indulging in materialistic goods such as new pairs of shoes. Instead of feeling better, he instead exacerbates his self-deprecating thoughts; calling himself a hypocrite for supporting the capitalist ideologies that he’s so openly against as a public figure. And this cognitive dissonance haunts Jeff throughout the entire album. The title track ‘N O D R E A M’ discusses people’s ambivalence towards horrific displays of violence and injustice, so long as it has no effect on their way of life. And once again, at the end of this track, Jeff spirals into a manic burst of anger, which feels like the manifestation of a panic attack induced by his frustration toward himself and others.
“Saintly fronts in a system that rewards only the greediest
The only endgame for capitalism is dystopia
And we know all about it but we just don't know what to do
What can we do?”
‘The Beauty of Breathing’ sounds like Jeff at the height of this frustration, as he blatantly expresses how his anxiety literally makes him rather “…take the car out on the road, flip it into park and smash myself into a million little pieces”, than have to stumble through a simple conversation. This is ironically one of the more eased tracks on the album, suggesting being so open about the topic is almost therapeutic. Even songs which are less frenetic than the rest of the album, such as ‘***BNB’, usually have at least one section which spirals into chaos (namely the 5 second outro of this track). It can make for a bit of a jarring first-listen, but that’s part of what makes Rosenstock’s music so unique and great. And the fact that “NO DREAM” was released out of the blue, without promotion or announcement, makes it feel even more like an in-the-moment expression of Rosenstock’s mental state. Almost as if it was written, recorded and released without a second thought; showing all the brushstrokes and imperfections in both the music and Jeff himself. This is absolutely a compliment toward the authenticity of “NO DREAM” rather than a criticism of its roughness, however there are some moments on the album that do falter despite this.
The song ‘f a m e’ has some of the least impressive songwriting on the record, and while leads to a decent second half, the beginning of the track isn't particularly grabbing. This unfortunately makes for a pretty unmemorable song on the whole, and since it sits almost smack-bang in the centre of the track-list it falters the albums momentum slightly. ‘Honeymoon Ashtray’ is also a moment on the album that doesn’t particularly stick out, feeling too restrained for the majority of its runtime. However apart from these minor complaints, the rest of “NO DREAM” is pretty consistent both thematically and musically. There are plenty of great tracks that I haven’t even mentioned, such as the anthemic ‘scram!’, or the heartfelt songs ‘state line’ and ‘Ohio Tpke’; the latter of which is a great final moment that brings the album to a bittersweet close.
“You're the only person that I wanted to like me
I miss coming home to you
I hate coming home
I hate leaving home”
“NO DREAM” was a welcome surprise to wake up to when it was simultaneously announced and released back in May. And it didn’t disappoint. Jeff Rosenstock delivers some of his rawest performances on this album, and it makes for an extremely fun, yet manic, experience. If he keeps up this level of quality, there’s no doubt that he’ll release some of the best music of the coming decade like he did throughout the 2010s.
“Exploiting all my deep narcissistic tendencies
Basking in the fruits of my soft complicity
Did you turn into a person that you really want to be?
I didn’t have the time”
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 27/07/20