Well, we’re almost through another year, though I don’t think anyone will be sad to see the miserable dumpster fire that was 2020 come to an end later this month. As is typical of most years, I’ll be taking a look at a grab bag of albums that I didn’t get around to reviewing on the blog. While I managed to keep a pretty good handle on reviewing my favorite albums (or at least mentioning them on podcasts or Quarantine Diaries), there were still a few that slipped through the cracks. But most importantly, we need these posts to make sure this year doesn’t feature our lowest post count ever (I got my eyes on you, 2018). 2020 brought us a lot of lows, but let’s try to prevent another one.
Talking about this album may feel a little redundant, since I did talk about Jeff Rosenstock earlier this year in my Top Ten Albums of the ’10s as well as a shout-out to his 2019 live album. However, I never actually talked about the album that he released in May, possibly because I wrote it off a bit at first. Fortunately, 2020 has been a year with plenty of opportunity to give things you didn’t pay too much attention to earlier a second look, because what the hell else did we have to do? So while No Dream initially struck me as a very solid Rosenstock album (if one that didn’t feature any huge steps forward), it has grown on me due to a great mixture of Rosenstock’s ability to be loud and energetic paired with a melodic craft often underseen in punk rock.
My first thought listening to No Dream was that it seemed to show Rosenstock embracing more of a straight-forward pop-punk aesthetic, which I kind of assume is what he grew up on. Of course, punk has always been at the heart of Rosenstock’s run of solo records, but there’s also been strains of folk-pop sprinkled throughout these records that are mostly missing from No Dream. Unsurprisingly, I was not that in the mood for a fist-pumping rock album in May, as one could almost feel guilty for feeling any sort of joy or triumph in the face of a ballooning sense of public misery. But I think as the year wore on, I started to say “fuck that”. There were only so many sad introverted albums I could handle listening to, and it’s not like Rosenstock isn’t singing about an appropriate amount of dread and anxiety underneath all the blistering hooks.
While Rosenstock’s lyrics about the general shittiness of the modern world are nothing new, there is something weirdly affecting about how many of the songs here feel like the product of the touring life. “Ohio Tpke” (my favorite song on the album) is probably the most overt example of this, with its contradictory refrains of “I miss coming home to you. / I hate coming home. / I hate leaving home.” I have to assume a lifer like Rosenstock lives for the road, and it sounds like he dropped No Dream sooner than anticipated as he started to see his many tour dates evaporate. I’m a little regretful that I haven’t seen Jeff Rosenstock live yet, but hopefully I’ll get to hear these sweaty tunes in an overcrowded indie club someday when we’re on the other side.