Tackling the subjects of frayed connections, dysphoria, and do-overs, Jeff Rosenstock’s second solo project We Cool? is a spirited look into a wild and sullied past. To what end, you’ll have to listen in. (Thanks to Star F for this upbeat, if harrowing fan pick.) Also stick around for the discussion of the millenium! Seriously, what changed in 2000? Undeniably, all decades carry their own cultural identity—and so, finally with some distance between us and the 90s / 20-aughts, let’s start objectively measuring those obvious and not-so-obvious developments.
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Hello guys! I keep saying this but one more time thanks so much for doing this review, as someone who is obsessed with music it actually means a lot to me that I got to share this album with you as well as anyone who listens! I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis and think that for the most part you totally nailed it.
But before I get into all of that, a quick bit of history:
First off I was actually rather surprised that before you started you cited Jeff’s previous work as being frontman of Kudrow! This is certainly true, but Kudrow overall was not really a notable band. As far as the DIY punk scene is concerned Jeff is commonly idolized for his work with Bomb The Music Industry!, his most prevalent band endeavor (of which there have been many).
This is where I want to take a moment just to talk about how strange it sometimes feels to share your favorite artist with someone who has never heard of them, and what goes into an album experience. My first exposure to Jeff’s music was through BTMI! back in 2006 with the album “Goodbye Cool World,” which was a much more difficult listen than “We Cool?” just in terms of production. After I had really let that album sink in I was completely sold on BTMI!, and started consuming everything they had to offer. Nearly a decade later I’m still clamoring for anything Jeff releases, and “We Cool?” really does feel like a logical extension of where BTMI! left off when they broke up in 2013. What I’m really trying to get at though is that my first experience with this new album was obviously colored by the fact that I was already completely on board with his style of music. That’s what made it exciting to hear you guys talk about this album with such detail after hearing it for the first time; I’ll never have the chance to experience a piece of art by Jeff Rosenstock without that impression ever again.
I digress though on that point, I don’t want this to get TOO out of hand. So here we go, a few points on your analysis!
Right at the start Matt mentioned the drums on Get Old Forever being reminiscent of indie hip hop, which is a great observation because Jeff actually had Stefon Alexander (aka P.O.S. of DOOMTREE fame) program those drums. So you really nailed it there.
Once again I agreed with most of what you guys said throughout, the only track where I think you may have missed the mark a little bit was You, In Weird Cities. I think your review of it was sound, but the one missing piece that wasn’t brought up was the narrative of the track. You, In Weird Cities specifically is about being a musician who creates all of these friendships and bonds with people in other bands and whatnot. It’s a track about having friends dispersed all throughout the world and only getting to see them when touring or working on a project together. Specifically the touring aspect. Hanging out with friends, exploring weird cities, and leaving your solitude behind and just forgetting about it all for awhile. Thus the recurring line “when I listen to your records, it’s like I’m hanging out with you.” So within the arc of the album it’s really about sitting alone, listening to your buddy’s records, and wishing that it could be like that all the time. I also want to note that this track has a really fun music video following a day where Jeff and his band played five shows in one day throughout the five boroughs of New York.
I also want to note that while it is obviously apparent, your references to Weezer are completely justified because Jeff loves Weezer. I wasn’t there for this show but I remember Bomb The Music Industry! once played a show that was only a Weezer cover set. It sounded pretty rad.
You guys mentioned the comedy aspect on Nausea, I just wanted to note that if you really want to experience that full force check out the music video for it. It is a truly wonderful thing. I also want to say that I never thought about the fact that what he’s describing in the verses really is just the minutia of life. I mean obviously it’s apparent but I didn’t really think about it in the way you describe that as being “all you have left to focus on,” which was a great way to describe it. I think one of my favorite things about this track IS how specific it is, because based on what he’s saying it’s just about impossible to relate to the verses of this track – but it’s all tied together by the emotion of the hook.
Jumping forward, you guys got me thinking more about some of these song pairings and I started wondering is maybe “Hey Allison!” is actually the aftermath of “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry”. Where as at first it’s this rambling drunk apology, and in the follow-up we get lyrics like “she couldn’t write back to you” really emphasized. Maybe this is just reaching, but it’s certainly something to think about. Also just in general I loved Hey Allison!, but maybe that goes back to it being the lead single so I had time to obsess over it without the album built around it, so by the time I heard the album I was already too familiar with it to dislike it, which just goes back to how interesting that first listening experience can be depending on how it’s shaped.
I really don’t want to ramble on too much longer so I’m gonna wrap it up by just talking about the overall arc of the album. I agree that “concept album” may be going a little too far but there is certainly a strong and apparent narrative here. “We Cool?” is an album that is about a person receding into themselves and getting so caught up in their own life that they just sort of alienate and abandon everyone they love. And it does, for the most part, go in a logical order. In the beginning these regrets and feelings are very apparent, but it’s still hopeful. Get Old Forever has Jeff singing that regrets are a waste of time. You, In Weird Cities sees loneliness, but a fondness and longing to spend time with friends. Novelty Sweater we start to see a dip into solitude. By Nausea we’ve completely receded into spending time alone and avoiding loved ones, but things are still okay (even at the beginning he cites “feeling amazing,” and it’s just so damn upbeat). Then things turn at Beers Again Alone as the drunken nights of solitude start to take over. I’m Serious, I’m Sorry sees our drunken protagonist reaching out and obsessing over the past. Hey Allison! possibly symbolizes the aftermath of this drunken action. By Polar Bear or Africa we’re now questioning whether or not these people are really even our friends. Or rather we start feeling like maybe we’re not good enough to be their friends (“I’m gonna die and you’re gonna forget my name”). And while Hall of Fame may not be the most striking song on first glance, I feel the finale of the album following it completely hinges on this track, because Hall of Fame is where our now depressed protagonist finally decided that “it’s true, fucking nobody loves you.” This is where we see these delusions form into resentment, we see a person who has convinced themselves their friends are just “waiting for you to fall and take your place.” And once this sets in we hit the finale: All Blissed Out and The Lows.
All Blissed Out is really, truly the lowest point. It’s a numbness towards everyone you’ve ever loved. It’s thinking about your friends and loved ones (Note the sound clips throughout the track) and feeling, well, nothing. No more happiness, perhaps not even resentment or guilt. Just… nothing. You’re all blissed out. And that’s when you decide that you “might as well be no one.” The end of All Blissed Out (once we reach that climactic and depressing decision) explodes into noise that literally drowns out the thoughts of those friends and loves ones and it becomes everything. And THAT’S when we hit The Lows. An incredible track that is about being at rock bottom and coming back to realize that maybe everything isn’t so bad. Maybe you CAN have a second chance. Maybe everything is going to be okay.
And finally we resolve with Darkness Records, a fitting epilogue and desire to try again and make amends, as you aptly noted.
This is an album about falling into yourself. WAY into yourself, and trying to find your way back. It’s about making it back to those people you’ve receded from and asking hey, we cool?
Oh, crap, I knew I would forget something! Okay one more tid-bit.
I just wanted to say that one thing I love about Jeff’s writing style that wasn’t mentioned was his tendency to switch the focus of the lyrics between himself (Or the character being portrayed) and you, the listener. You can find examples of it all over the album. In the first track the hook changes from “Breathe in deep and debride your life” to “breathe in deep and debride MY life”. In almost all of Hey Allison! you get lyrics that are focused on “you” but in the last line it’s “This sudden detachment from friendship is making ME ache”. In Polar Bear or Africa the bridge isn’t “I’m gonna give ’em a trip to the hospital,” etc., it’s “WE’RE gonna.” It’s a small detail but I really appreciate it and feel that it helps to create a connection between the singer and listener. 🙂