Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

A vulnerable Jeff Rosenstock makes a chaotic world bearable on HELLMODE


Release date: 01 September 2023
Jeff Rosenstock - HELLMODE cover
30 August 2023, 09:00 Written by Kyle Kohner

With the foolish pageantry of a presidential campaign season on the jaundiced American horizon dawning upon a planet in ecological toil, it's easy to stagnate and feel desensitized when everything is cast in flames.

Yes, Hell is here, but it's always been here. It just feels that, lately, all its depravity has been levied all out once, hasn't it? Power pop good guy Jeff Rosenstock feels it too on his new record, HELLMODE, and how appropriate it is that he’s come back into frame to help us brave the heat with his apathetic anthems.

Now, it does take some time to fall head over heels for the simplistic and hastened power pop of HELLMODE – and you will fall in love – but within the first few go-rounds, each song seems to bleed into one another, forming one homogenized blob with a single angry vein pulsing through its uniform body. This has always been the case with Rosenstock’s records; however, HELLMODE's sonic sameness does fade away with more listening – a proper album rollout this time helps its cause.

Gradually, the flames burning beneath HELLMODE rise up to sear away the project's front-loaded tenacity and excitement, revealing something far more vulnerable and nuanced. It is the voice of an artist who, usually fervent, is now sick and tired of being sick and tired. He's singing with a different tone and tenor as the chaos of the world he aims to reflect has become too overbearing, all the while hints of relational strain fester beneath this overarching mayhem. He sounds deflated, never uninspired, but undoubtedly exhausted as his expressed anxieties play out on the record.

The starkly subdued "HEALMODE" sees Rosenstock leisurely welcome the rare rains of California, viewing it with reverence only for sudden apathy to take hold: "I'm standing in the moonlight / Wondering when will this all be / Over / I'm wondering if it really doesn't / Matter what I do or what / I say". One track later, he retreads from the downpour with an almost too-care-free attitude as the sudden apathetic jolt of the song prior induces Rosenstock into self-deprecation and creative stagnation. He begins to recognize his privilege as a successful artist able to escape reality as it encroaches on calamity. "I don't wanna write a song about anything / I throw them all away", he laments. "Now I'm living with the fear that anyone will find out how I live / Drinking ice cold beers under a fire season sunset", he admits moments later.

He has a point – how can anyone enjoy anything when our current state of affairs edge into oblivion with determination? Well, you fight. You still prioritize your well-being and even eliminate the toxicity from your life, as he reminds us through the swooning folk-punk anthem of "GRAVEYARD SONG". But you fight – with a beaming smile, a warm heart, and above all, some grace for yourself, even if you must escape into your creature comforts when all is stuck in a loop of destruction. This message is no more precise and passionately expressed than through the colossal parting number, "3 SUMMERS", and what a closer it is.

Though it initially presents itself as a typical Rosenstock pop-punk firecracker, "3 SUMMERS" gradually veers from Rosenstock's templated quick-twitch sound and sentiment – it's a seven-minute long rollercoaster ride with depth and a steep incline that preps listeners for a mountainous, emotional climax. At its peak, Rosenstock stands, urging us to "stay young until we die," but not without also leaving us with an image of sobriety to bind this disarray together: "I sat around and watched the wind for three whole summers / The longer I go, the longer I know that I'm different than before." It's been quite a blurry three years since our world tipped the scales to no return – it's always been on the verge of disaster, to be fair – and nothing appears to have gotten better; you haven't, and neither have I – at least it feels that way sometimes. But you'd be surprised if you step back for a second to find that you're different than before, too.

With this 20-degree sentimental tilt of HELLMODE, we've now had the privilege to know Rosenstock a touch milder – still goofy as all get out – but weary of what's happening and what's to come. Essentially, HELLMODE all but confirms the sincerity electrifying the voice of our charming punk hero. With little hope to hold onto, he's still angry, urgent, and prescient as ever; I mean, just listen to "HEAD" or even "I WANNA BE WRONG." But he manages to balance it with determination. Even if none of us know how to process this hellhole that Rosenstock warned us about on 2016's WORRY. – we are not alone. It's reassuring knowing Rosenstock feels it all too.

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