Jeff Rosenstock’s lyrics have always resonated with me, and his experimental attitude towards music has always felt earnest and inspired. In my mind, the punk scene is lucky to call Rosenstock a native. On I Look Like Shit, Rosenstock further explores his own influences, but this time in the context of a solo album. While comparisons to Bomb the Music Industry! are inevitable, and frankly warranted, subtle changes in approach make this album an exciting and unique experience.
The trilling guitar lines, synthesizer melodies, and girl group back-up vocals that made Vacation sound like a beach punk masterpiece are still here, but this time around used to evoke the 50’s more than the 60’s. But more interesting is the raw tone that pervades I Look Like Shit, balancing it’s over-production and instrumental enthusiasm with Rosenstock’s strained, pop-punk inflected voice– which is in rare form, and used just as thoroughly as any instrument, going from falsettos to hardcore shouting and a wavering croon at a moments notice.
“Twinkles” kicks the album off, its opening reminiscent of the more piano driven segments off Scrambles. Lyrically, it establishes themes that run through the entire album, including loneliness, shame, and anxiety. “Twinkles” finds the narrator (who is most likely Rosenstock himself) paranoid and afraid of his peers, remembering when they were all equals (“Teenage Halloween…”) and contemplating why he was left behind, while his friends enter adulthood. It’s interesting how the lyrics maintain a sort of abstract approach to its meaning, favoring anecdotes over ham-fisted misery. “80’s Through the 50’s” might be my favorite song on the album, combining decades of sound into one beautiful track, while “Little Blue Pills” is an outright punk song, driven by fast, fuzzy guitar chords and Rosenstock’s own self loathing.
What amazes me the most about I Look Like Shit is that there is not a single bad track on the entire album– every song here is of high quality. Amidst all the original material are two covers as well, chosen wisely enough that they feel like a continuation of everything Rosenstock has been singing on his own tracks. “Dishes,” originally by Pulp, cements the theme of housework that runs through the album (see also: “The Trash The Trash The Trash”) and is played as light reggae. I Look Like Shit feels and sounds like a battle between past, present, and future; I can’t help but wonder if the domesticity of household chores feels something like giving up to Rosenstock, a representation of a normal life– one that he obviously envies but remains defiant too. The other cover, “I Don’t Wanna Die” by the Ging Nang Boyz, is sung in Japanese except for its chorus and manages to feel fun and universal despite the language barrier.
I Look Like Shit is musically adventurous, catchy as hell, and painfully introspective– to call it anything but a triumphant success would be underselling it. If this is what a post-Bomb the Music Industry! world looks like, I’m in.