Personnel: Jeff Rosenstock (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Mike Huguenor (vocals, guitar); Laura Stevenson (vocals); Kevin Higuchi (drums, tambourine); John DeDomenici (drums); Mike Campbell (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Jack Shirley.
Recording information: Laura Stevenson's Mom's House, Rockville Centre, NY; Quote Unquote Records, Brooklyn, NY; THe Atomic Garden, East Palo Alto, CA.
Photographer: Jeff Rosenstock.
In the years leading up to his 2012 solo debut I Look Like Shit, Long Islander Jeff Rosenstock cut his teeth as the figurehead behind ska-punk eccentrics the Arrogant Sons of Bitches and later, the wide-ranging punk/indie pop collective Bomb the Music Industry! (BtMI!). A perpetually unfiltered D.I.Y. enthusiast, he's the kind of artist who puts it all on display, allowing life's messy emotional spillage to cascade out over nearly two decade's worth of indie releases by primary bands, one- or two-off side projects, novelty releases, etc. Throughout this career arc his musical evolution has been charted, and just as the Sons of Bitches dovetailed right into BtMI!, the latter's sound too became the blueprint for his solo work. Similar to his debut, Rosenstock's sophomore release, We Cool?, has a lot going on. The snarky, lo-fi pop-punk affectations that have long been a hallmark in his music remain, but the panoply of pop influences that began to emerge on the later BtMI! records continue to color both the writing and arrangements here. The blend of delicate Beach Boys harmonies and cheap electro beats that herald the intro of "Get Old Forever" slam dramatically into a wall of emo-fuzz melody complete with horn fanfares and glockenspiel. "Nausea" sports a nearly wistful, B-level Ben Folds-ian piano melody over which Rosenstock's overblown, hoarse voice bellows tales of disillusionment while heavy ska horns play from the wings. Sometimes, these creative lo-fi attempts don't work, like on the shrill, plodding pastiche "All Blissed Out," which manages to sound whiny even when he's not singing. The more straightforward songs favor a decidedly Weezer-esque fuzz-pop style, and similar to many of Rosenstock's other projects, the production values here swing wildly between decent fidelity and the sound of a trombone playing one inch away from a MacBook's built-in mike. His balls-out exuberance and willingness to explore is commendable, but it's hard not to wonder what a decent producer/editor could have done here. ~ Timothy Monger